[RECIFE] The Brazilian government has negotiated a US$5 million reduction in the fees it pays to allow many of the country's researchers to gain free access to electronic versions of a large number of scientific journals.
The government's 'journal website' (Portal de Periódicos), allows researchers across the country to access the full text of thousands of international journals, magazines and databases covering a broad range of subjects.
Last year, the government funding agency responsible for the website, known as CAPES (Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Staff), paid a total of US$20 million in individual agreements with international publishers in order to provide access to their publications through its website.
But as a result of recent negotiations, CAPES will this year pay one quarter less. In addition, CAPES has also secured an increase of almost a third in the amount of content available through the website, meaning that now 4,800 journals can be read through the system.
"Science is a part of our natural human heritage," says Roberto Bartholo from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, who led negotiations with publishers. "Every country or institution that wishes to benefit and improve science must fight for better conditions in order to share knowledge."
In many developing nations, institutions can gain free or reduced-price access to journals through systems such as the Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI), run by the World Health Organisation. But Brazil is too rich to qualify for such initiatives.
However, there is still a need to push for better access to scientific journals in richer developing nations such as Brazil and Mexico, according to Sarah Durrant, senior programme manager at the UK-based International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP).
"It sounds like the Brazilian government has done an amazing job," she says, adding that Brazil's example shows that governments can have considerable clout in negotiations with international publishers if they act on behalf of their research institutions.
The website, which last year received more than 3.7 million visits, can be accessed from Internet terminals at 100 universities, 37 research centres and 29 technology education centres across the country.
Publishers such as Kluwer, Springer, Cambridge Abstract Scientific, and Emerald are participating in the programme. Each year since the website's launch in 2000, CAPES has secured more favorable conditions for the website, including more flexible contracts and longer payment deadlines.