However, whenever and possibly even if ever, those were questions confronting Parliament throughout the week of London Book Fair, as the United Kingdom moved ever closer to March 29th, 2019, the then-scheduled date for Brexit, when the country was set to exit from membership in the European Union.
As moderator of a panel discussion, Scholarly Publishing Through the Brexit Lens, I explored the many possible directions Brexit may lead publishing in 2019 and afterward.
What challenges should we prepare for? What opportunities may possibly lie ahead? What might Brexit mean to the transition to open access?
Those were among the issues raised with Tim Britton, former Managing Director of the Open Research Group at Springer Nature; Hugh Logue, Director and Lead Analyst for Legal and Regulatory Solutions at Outsell, Inc., a research and advisory firm for the data and information industry; Petra Labriga, Management Consultant and Project Manager at TIB Hanover, the German National Library of Science and Technology; and Simon Ross who joined Manchester University Press as Chief Executive in 2016, after nearly 10 years with Cambridge University Press as Managing Director of Journals and Deputy Managing Director of the Academic Group.
“In terms of the impact to the university, we’re forecasting a hit from Brexit and other factors of between £100 and £300 million every year, mainly with a downturn in foreign student income,” Ross explained.
The largest university in the UK, Manchester has enrollment of over 40,000 students and an annual turnover of a £1 billion.
“Money from foreign students basically covers the costs of hosting the research that’s done in the institution, which, although it’s funded, it’s not fully funded,” Ross said. “The additional money that comes from foreign students makes up that difference. It is now going to become more expensive to do research. And of course, this has a knock-on effect for publishing.”
Bringing a European perspective to the discussion, Petra Labriga noted her many personal ties to the UK, including a stint in the 1990s working for the British Library. “I’m wearing black today,” she said. “I’m in mourning, if this [Brexit] is happening.”
Without any details on the terms of the UK withdrawal from the EU, European organizations like TIB Hanover can only speculate on any impacts, Labriga admitted, though the outlook is gloomy. “The people who do our purchasing tell me they expect more work because of possible disruption with customs. So that means (subscriptions and acquisitions are) going to be more expensive, and obviously our library budget is not expanding. It’s the other way around,” she said.
Outsell’s Hugh Logue correctly foresaw an extension of the deadline for Britain’s exit from the EU. “It’s likely that we’re going to see in the next couple of days an extension” he said on March 12, “but I think anything beyond that would just be unconscionable. The worst thing that could happen is somehow we extend Brexit, and we drift for another two years. That would be damaging to publishing. Indeed, it would probably be damaging to most industries.”
“People don’t like uncertainty. Even if they don’t like the outcome, they will like the certainty of knowing what is going to happen,” agreed Simon Ross. “The uncertainty is disruptive. I think it increases the negative image that people have of the UK, doing business with the UK, coming to study in the UK, doing research in the UK.
“I can even see it filtering down to the diversity of our author base,” he added. Authors outside the UK will ask, “Do I really want to publish now with a UK university press? Why don’t I just go and publish with a European one, or better still, an American one? I see that there are lots of downsides to the delay.”