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14 November 2016

5 ways to be a university press

By Jennifer Wright, University Publishing Manager

Be the publishing outlet of your university
Isn’t this the very reason for UP existence? Not necessarily! The accusation of being a “vanity press” would make most university presses squirm, and most likely trigger a vehement defence of the objective and rigorous review of all scholarship, regardless of origin. Recently, however, a wave of new university presses have started to challenge the indifference of some UPs to their local faculty. Some waive publication fees for their own academics, others provide publishing services (often in partnership with the university library) to support outputs that haven’t found a home in traditional university publishing.

Be open access
The founding mission of most university presses, new or old, includes a responsibility to generate and disseminate knowledge. Some focus on very specific areas of knowledge, others, like CUP, take a broader view and include everything from primary school education to fluid mechanics journals, sometimes regardless of whether or not it is a strength of their host university. Hand-in-hand with the Open Access movement, some university presses have now taken this mission to its logical conclusion; how better to share knowledge as widely as possible, than to remove barriers to its access?

Support the university financially
There are almost 25000 academic staff in UK universities on zero-hours contracts, and frequent cries that assessment, prioritization, and funding structures for research are broken. In parallel, academics increasingly perceive commercial publishers to be exploiting their work for substantial profit, little of which is returned to the academic community.  What if this profit instead went towards securing long term data storage facilities at universities? Or funding a researcher’s salary independent of grants? Maybe supporting research outreach activities? This isn’t a “what if”; you’re looking at the potential of university presses. It’s not a stretch to imagine the benefits of profits moving from commercial publishers to UPs and their host universities.

Work with them / share resources
As important as money and services are, perhaps the crux of what differentiates university presses and commercial publishers ought to be the ability of UPs to work together with their universities; to share knowledge, best practice, and to experiment. Manchester University, for example, recently explored very direct links between press and university in teaching research skills, and Kingston University Press is embedded in the department of Journalism and Publishing.  As the line between “collaboration” and “publication” becomes blurrier, the “knowledge dissemination” contained in the mission of many UPs can occur at any stage of the research lifecycle. Large commercial publishers are already meeting this challenge by gathering data and subsequently selling new products and services to serve all these stages.  Instead of monitoring and responding to the behaviour of academics, university presses and universities should collaborate to develop new ways of working for the joint benefit of the advancement and dissemination of knowledge.

Big them up
Lastly, UPs can be powerful allies in the development of strategic interests of their universities, either by magnifying existing perceptions and strengths of the university (like MIT Press and MIT), or by weaving new perceptions into the old. This complementarity helps the university attract funding, staff, students, and global connections. Large university presses like CUP and OUP will rarely miss an important conference, and can also have oversight of developments in a discipline from kindergarten student to Nobel Prize winner, from single scholar to international learned society.  They can therefore be of use to their host universities as both ambassador and consultant.

In summary
As you might already conclude from the above, most UPs have their own unique blend of “being a university press”, but all are united by sharing and being governed by the overarching mission of their universities.

Happy University Press week!


Public Relations Manager
Tel: +44 (0)1223 326194



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