Publishing and perishing in Africa ? an ethical issue?

I was given pause for thought last week when, in a University of Cape Town  Centre for Higher Education Development seminar on research ethics, Kevin Williams, of the Higher and Adult Education and Development Unit (HEASDU) mentioned that some of his respondents to an investigation of the ethics involved in higher education practitioner research had expressed doubts about the real intentions of researchers interviewing them. Were these researchers really interested in the importance of the research they were conducting, or was their main concern to get material that could be worked into journal articles and chapters in books, for promotion purposes? This might have been something of an aside in Kevin's talk, but it struck a chord and made me think that there might indeed be an ethical dimension in our obsession with journal article counts and accredited publications.

I have had the question in mind as I have scanned a number of recent publications on the renewal of higher education in Africa and have noted with concern the persistence of the use of counts of journal articles published in ISI journals as the standard and sometimes the only measure for the status of African research in the world. In other words, in a continent in which the goal of public investment in research is explicitly to contribute to national growth and development, the measure of success all too often applied is the production of a lot of journal articles in foreign publications targeted at other scholars in the field. This is hardly a metric that is going to tell us anything about what our scholars are really contributing to the resolution of the considerable problems that challenge the continent.

The surge of  interest in African higher education is good part owing to the publication by the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA) of a series of reports on the state of higher education in the SADC region, summarised in Towards a Common Future: Higher Education in the SADC Region. Drawing in part from this, Sci-Dev.net has published a series of articles on developments in African higher education. And the World Bank, backtracking from its damaging dismissal of higher education as a funding priority in the 1980s, in 2008 published Accelerating Catch-up: Tertiary Education for Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa1.

The message in all of these reports has a not very equal measure of good and bad news. The good news is that there is a concerted effort to turn around the deficits in African higher education, damaged by 20 years of funding neglect, on top of a poor colonial inheritance.

The bad news is that African higher education remains in poor shape, in need of radical infusions of funding and visionary planning. It is all too easy to forget that when the wave of independence rolled across Africa from the 1960s, there were very few universities outside of South Africa, and as  universities were rapidly developed in newly independent countries, these were based on the colonial model, designed to produce a governing and professional elite and to reinforce what were accepted as 'international' values.

This is only one of the reasons why I am concerned with the insistence on ISI journal article counts as the measure of research excellence. This is par excellence a colonial measure, designed to value research according to how it conforms to criteria set by a commercial conglomerate in the metropolis/the USA to define what is 'mainstream'.  Africa, on the other hand, is about as far off in the periphery as one can get and, not unpredictably, does not score well in this index. What is often ignored that is that the value system that underpins this particular measure is competitiveness of universities and individual scholars  in the the not very level playing field of the global knowledge economy, where commercial enterprise and copyrights and patents are seen as the ways to make a difference.

There is no doubt that as long as this remains an accepted standard of excellence by the most powerful players in the global scholarly community, African scholars will have to go on playing this game. And this is an ethical issue. As Obama calls for shared values and the power of ideals over cynicism, power politics and greed, perhaps the way in which Africa can say 'Yes we can!' is in learning to value the knowledge it produces by its own standards. In those SADC countries in which 89% of scholars responded that their research interests coincided with national development targets, how can we develop measures for 'Africa's share of world science' that measure this rather than participation in someone else's science endeavours?

How can we re-cast the idea of what is 'international' – as Paul Zeleza has said, how do we learn to globalise our research and localise US research? Most importantly, how do we revalue the hierachies of 'applied' and 'basic' research to develop ways of valuing what we in Africa are really good at: high level and high quality research that responds to and learns from society? How do we get support for the more effective and more extensive production of research outputs that  this kind of research is already producing and that demonstrate genuine contributions to national and regional development?

What is certain is that if African universities were to provide open access for the considerable volume of publications already posted online by development research units and ensure that these are easliy accessible, this in itself could boost the contribution of African universities to development goals. 

1. I am not including the url to the World Bank publication, by the way, because of its confused approach to its intellectual property rights management. I would have thought that the World Bank would want its African readership, in particular, to read this publication. But, although it exists as an e-book, that version is 'available to subscribers only'. Otherwise you can buy it in print. Does the World Bank really want to make money from African countries by selling its publications, or restrict access to a text that is readily available in PDF format and costs nothing to distribute? The e-book is copyrighted with an 'all rights reserved' licence, that nevertheless states that '[t]he International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank encourages dissemination of its work and will normally grant permission to reproduce portions of the work promptly.'  Which being translated means that you need to apply  to the US Copyright Clearance Centre for permission to photocopy or reprint 'any part of this work'.  You have to either write a letter or telephone – no email address available. Could someone please send an ambassador to the World Bank publisher to explain how Creative Commons licences work?

 

Inaguration day

On Obama's inauguration day, I thought I was going to be in the wrong place.

I was banking on seeing the speech live. But instead I was at a celebration for  a very good policy research organisation – one of the many in South Africa that take it for granted that what research is about is making a difference and that their research publications should be made available free online for everybody. It is one of those very South African research organisations that have became a source of high quality research interventions to inform development in a democratic South Africa.  

The occasion was the launch as  an Institute  of  PLAAS – the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape.  The acronym is wonderful – for non-South Africans, you need to know that 'plaas' is 'farm' in Afrikaans and that is the language of the rural workers in the Western Cape who are a primary focus of  PLAAS's research. The venue was the pool terrace of a hotel near the sea, at a spot where Robben Island is just a short way across the bay, a reminder perhaps of the Mandela inheritance that Obama might draw on.

I arrived at the venue with the Inauguration very much in mind, thinking through how things might change for us with a new US President. Obama's is a very different face in the now gloriously inappositely-named White House, with special meaning for Africa. In the background, the sound effect is the thundering crunch of falling masonry as the mad world of global business falls apart. From the southern tip of Africa, the question is not only how Obama will do as President, particularly in relation to Africa, but also whether the economic crash is going to be hard enough to give him space to help usher in a different and less exploitative world order.

In his interview at Google, while still a candidate, Obama had given us a glimpse of  his vision for a more open way of government, a world in which access to knowledge and information is a guarantee of democratic participation and good governance. 'If you give people good information,' he said, 'they will make good decisions'. Giving good information and making it accessible to the people who need it is what  PLAAS and other research groupings like it do pretty well.
 
In my naïve way, I believe that this kind of research is in truth the globally competitive cutting edge strength of the South African research endeavour, rather than the journal indexes, journal article counts and the tallying up of citation counts that is used as the metric for valuing South African research. The engaged research carried out by organisations like PLAAS features the combination of high quality and cutting edge basic research with real engagement with the community. As Subbiah Arunachalam would say, scholarly communications need to flow from scholar to scholar, from scholar to farmer, from farmer to farmer and from farmer to scholar. That is one of the things that makes for really good research.

But organisations like PLAAS do face problems in our current research policy environment. This   emerged in the speech of Ben Cousins, the Director of PLAAS He said two things that struck me particularly on US inauguration night. One was that, although the Institute publishes a high volume of quality research in print and on its website and makes sure that this reaches government policy-makers and other stakeholders, PLAAS's researchers are under relentless pressure from the university to publish more and more journal articles in 'accredited' (i.e. indexed) journals in order to attract government publication subsidies. Policy research papers and research reports on development-focused research don't count.

The other piece of information Ben gave us was that the government appears to have taken a strangely wrong-headed direction – as he sees it – in its land rights reform policy and is planning  an empowerment programme that aims to create black empowerment through the sponsoring of large-scale corporate farmers who could operate in a globally competitive market.  

In both of these cases, the values at play are those of  the world that seems to be failing, of the large corporations, with profits and competitiveness as the driving forces. That is all too clear in the land rights reform proposals. However, not all academics recognise that it is this very same global business world that owns and directs the hallowed traditions of journal publication and citation counts that dominate how scholarship is disseminated and how it is valued in South Africa.  After all,  the journals that are most highly rated tend to be those in the hands of large commercial publishers. And the way these are indexed – and hence valued – is in the hands of a single US conglomerate. Thomson Reuters owns the ISI journal indexing system that is treated with such reverence in South African academe and it is Thomson Reuters and no-one else that decides who wins and who loses in this particular game, which journals make the cut and which don't.

What is happening in South African research therefore is that the commercially-driven values of global competitivenesss in exactly the world order that Obama is challenging dominate the academic reward system, marginalising the value-driven research that aims to make a difference, contributing to  national development in precisely the way government says it wants its research investment to deliver.

It turned out that there was a television screen in the venue, so it was with the supporters of PLAAS that I listened to the inauguration speech. There was less of relevance than in his interview at Google, where he talked of the need to provide open access to all aspects of policy making, making medical policy through a consultative process, but 'not letting the pharmaceutical companies buy the table' and expressing the perspective he has as the grandson of a woman living without running water or electricity in rural Kenya. But in the inaugural speech, he did talk of the restoration of 'those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old.' These things are also the values of research centres like PLAAS and not of the global journal publishing system that has grown up in the last 60 years, giving us s remarkably inequitable knowledge regime, where far too much of the really important research that we do is consigned to the margins.

World university rankings – UCT’s web presence

UCT, as a good research university, likes to compete in world
rankings, endorsing its  high international profile. Well, we have
creamed another competition, in relative terms, but I
nevertheless have some unsolicited advice on how we can improve our
ranking even further to power our way into the 'Premier
League
' top 200 of this particular competition.

We are talking about the Webometrics
world ranking of university websites, which has just released its
2008 rankings (thanks to Peter
Suber's Open Access News
for bringing this to my attention). UCT
comes in at number 385 out of over 14,000 universities. Not bad at
all – it puts us at the top
of Africa
and gets us in ahead of all but two Latin American
universities and all Indian universities (where Bangalore comes in at
605). Not unexpectedly, the top 8 African universities are from South
Africa, with Stellenbosch second at 654 and Rhodes third at 722.
UNISA, surprisingly comes in quite low – 8th, at 1,499. DUT is the
lowest rated South African university at 8,735.

So, congratulations to UCT and its web developers. But can I be
grudging and suggest that we should do better? We need to get into
the world top 200 – the Premier League, among the big Asian, US and
European players (and yes, that is the order). After all, UCT prides
itself on its far-sightedness in ICT development and has created the
Centre for Educational Technology
for the development of ICT use for teaching and learning – something
that turned out in a recent online discussion forum in the eMerge
2008 online conference
to be the envy of many of our colleagues
in other universities. 

To get a hint on how to do better, one needs to look at the
criteria for evaluation. This is what the Webometrics site says about
its criteria:

The original aim of the Ranking was to promote Web
publication, not to rank institutions. Supporting Open Access
initiatives, electronic access to scientific publications and to
other academic material are our primary targets. However web
indicators are very useful for ranking purposes too as they are not
based on number of visits or page design but global performance and
visibility of the universities.

As other rankings focused
only on a few relevant aspects, specially research results, web
indicators based ranking reflects better the whole picture, as many
other activities of professors and researchers are showed by their
web presence.

The Web covers not only
only formal (e-journals, repositories) but also informal scholarly
communication. Web publication is cheaper, maintaining the high
standards of quality of peer review processes. It could also reach
much larger potential audiences, offering access to scientific
knowledge to researchers and institutions located in developing
countries and also to third parties (economic, industrial, political
or cultural stakeholders) in their own community.

The Webometrics ranking
has a larger coverage than other similar rankings. The ranking is not
only focused on research results but also in other indicators which
may reflect better the global quality of the scholar and research
institutions worldwide.

The site includes a very useful ten-point
list of good web practice
for university sites. But it is clear
what UCT needs to do to improve its rankings, and that is to put its
scholars' research output online
, to make it accessible and searchable and increase
the 'global performance and visibility of its research'. Note that
the ranking includes not only formal journals and repositories, but
also 'informal scholarly communication'. The Social
Responsiveness
programme in the UCT Planning Office is
demonstrating that we produce a lot of that, too, although we do not
record it properly. Putting the not inconsiderable output of UCT's
student and staff community programmes would serve a dual purpose of
increasing the reach and impact of these vital resources
and increasing the university's research profile.

So how about a drive to put UCT's considerable research output online
(including its very substantial contribution to community
development) and see if we can shine even better in another
international ranking? And yes, this does apply also to all those S&T departments North of Jammie steps. 

 

The world’s leading universities move to open access

South Africa's leading research
universities are very keen to compete in the international arena,
ranking up comparative scores of international journal articles
published and citation counts and jostling for research ratings (more
on that tomorrow).

So, if we are competing with the big
players internationally, what are they up to? A review of developments
in open access in the last couple of months is a very telling insight
into how the terrain might be changing – not that the citation
counts have gone away, but that the big research universities seem to
be recognising the strategic importance of open communications. The
universities concerned are quite hard nosed and not into empty
gestures, so I imagine that their reasons for the actions they have
taken are strategic, as was MIT's decision to spend a lot of money
opening up its educational resources to the world.

In the last couple of months:

Harvard University's Faculty
of Arts and Sciences voted
unanimously to grant the university a
licence to make the faculty's scholarly articles freely available
online.The move was motivated in part by
dissatisfaction with the copyright restrictions and the escalating
cost of commercially published journals and in that mood, the move is
to greater control of the university's and its scholars' own output.
However, it is a also a firm commitment to the active and open
dissemination of research:

"This is a large and very
important step for scholars throughout the country. It should be a
very powerful message to the academic community that we want and
should have more control over how our work is used and
disseminated,"â€added
Shieber, James O. Welch, Jr. and Virginia B. Welch Professor of
Computer Science.

"The goal of university research
is the creation, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge. At
Harvard, where so much of our research is of global significance, we
have an essential responsibility to distribute the fruits of our
scholarship as widely as possible," said Steven E. Hyman,
provost. "Today's action in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
will promote free and open access to significant, ongoing research.
It is a first step in the creation of an openaccess environment for
current research that may one day provide the widest possible
dissemination of Harvard's distinguished faculties' work," he
added.

Shortly afterwards, the
Harvard Faculty of Law followed suit
, committing to make articles
authored by faculty available free online.

Harvard University is now creating an
Office for Scholarly
Communications
, situated in the university libraries, under the
aegis of the historian Robert Darnton. (perhaps emulatingthe
University of California's similarly-named position). This office
will ensure that faculty, when signing publishing agreements, will do
so in such a way as to best serve the public interest. The Office
will also oversee the creation of a repository for university
publications.

The motivations for all of these moves
talk of the prestige of Harvard research and the need to make it
available globally. Clearly Harvard sees opening its intellectual
capital as a good way of advancing its research mission and profiling
the university.

In June 2008, at the ElPub conference
in Toronto, John Willinsky announced that the Stanford University
School of Education had emulated Harvard in passing a unanimous
motion for a mandate for the open access deposit of research
articles. (See the
account in Peter Suber's Open Access News
and the report in the
SPARC
newsletter
) The Stanford
School of Humanities and Science
is now considering a similar
mandate, Peter Suber reports.

Also inspired by Harvard, the
Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University has
proposed
to the university that they adopt and Open Access
policy. Details are in his blog
(he has a blog, take note!)

And Michigan University has created
Open Michigan, which
provides a gateway to a wide variety of university resources (via
Peter
Suber's blog
). It includes open education resources, open
software and open publishing and archives. Again, this is a strategic
initiative: as the university describes it:

With a common goal
of opening resources for teaching, learning and research for use and
enhancement by a global community, these projects increase the value
of those resources to U-M and the world. Open.Michigan provides a
clear view of the many places and ways U-M contributes to our world's
knowledge and creates exemplary resources for education and research.

That is just a few months' worth in the
US. The question is, 'What are we doing at UCT? And in South Africa more generally?'

ASSAF scholarly publishing team visits SciELO in Brazil

Potential blogs

On
July 7-11, 2008, a delegation from the Academy of Sciences of South
Africa (
ASSAf)
visited
BIREME
In Sao Paulo, Brazil. The
ASSAF delegation was there to review the potential for the adoption
of the
SciELO
(Scientific Electronic Library Online) model as a platform to manage
scientific publication in South Africa. Given that there is a wider
African Academies of Science project to boost scholarly publishing
across Africa, this could be a spearhead for a future regional open
access network. (For background, see my
blog of 30 April
.)

This
was an important visit. SciELO is a model of successful regional
collaboration to raise the profile of a developing economy region's
research publication in the face of an inequitable global system.
Given that Thomson Scientific is reported to be looking at the
question of regional journals right now, it is worth looking at a bit
of history. A similar exercise happened in 1982, at which the status
of 'peripheral' or 'Third World' journals was discussed. As
Jean-Claude Gu
èdon
describes the
result
in a recent publication, given the task of reviewing how
to deal with a national perspective on contributions to world
science, the national perspective was 'ultimately dismissed,
presumably as a provincial exercise of no interest to the rest of the
world. Without justification or analysis, a distinction between
“local publications” and “mainstream” or “world science”
as if it were evidence”.

We
live with the results of this perverse interpretation of scientific
universalism' as Guèdon describes it, as we all know.

BIREME
has produced a detailed newsletter
on this visit in which Wieland
Gevers is quoted on South Africa's position in this regard:

According
to Wieland Gevers, among the 225 South African scientific journals,
over one hundred have never had an article cited. “South Africa
occupies a paradoxical position in the context of scientific
publication: it is simultaneously a giant within the African context
and a dwarf in the international arena”, defined Gevers. He also
added that “we are talking about a country that has nine Nobel
Prize winners, and four are related to scientific fields, including
Allan MacLeod Cormack … -the co-inventor of CAT scanning…

We watch the outcome of this initiative with great
interest. SciELO could be a powerful partner. Guèdon
describes it as probably the most  successful regional/international initiative
– it includes Portugal and Spain as well as Latin American countries
– which has the potential, he argues, 'to play a formidable role in
this battle to remove the divide barriers or, at least, lower them' .
He argues for 'strong international collaboration with well-targeted
countries to build a base for the reform of scientific power in a
credible way. These countries are quite easy to identify and have
already been mentioned before: they include China and India. Africa
must be included because it is suffering the most from the knowledge
divide that has been constantly decried, criticised and attacked in
this text.'

More
background from the BIREME newsletter:

SciELO
has had a successful performance in Latin America and the Caribbean,
and is an outstanding reference in the process of research,
evaluation and adoption of a solution for national scientific
communication…The first portal –
SciELO
Brazil collection

– started operating publicly in 1998. Since then, the SciELO project
has developed and is present in eight countries, adding up to over
550 titles of certified journals and more than 180 thousand full-text
articles available free online (open access), including original
articles, review articles, editorials and other types of
communication…

ASSAf
showed interest to put into practice a pilot experience with an
initial group of five South African publications in order to test the
functionalities of the SciELO platform. The BIREME was invited to
make a technical visit to South Africa in September 2008 to
demonstrate the system to the members of the Academy Advisory Board.

Guédon,
J., 2007. Open Access and the divide between “mainstream” and
“peripheral” science. In
Ferreira, Sueli Mara S.P. and Targino, Maria das Graças, Eds. Como gerir e qualificar revistas
científicas
. Available at:
http://eprints.rclis.org/archive/00012156/ [Accessed August 3, 2008].

Open access repositories begin to reap benefits for South African science as CSIR research goes global


There are interestingsigns of an increase in the momentum of change in researchcommunications in South Africa. And equally interesting reflectionsto be made on who is not in this game – for example where are UCT and Wits in all this? 

The latestmove has been the announcement in Seoul, Korea of the creation of aglobal science gateway, WorldWideScience.org. (Thanks to PeterSuber's Blog and Denise Nicholson's Newsletter for alerting meto this news.) The good news is that this time there is a good SouthAfrican presence through the participation of the CSIR's ResearchSpace repository and the African journals from 24 countries thatappear as a result of AfricanJournals Online (AJOL).

WorldWideScience is,according to its website, 'a global science gateway connecting you tonational and international scientific databases. It hopes to'accelerate scientific discovery and progress by providing one-stopsearching of global science sources'. This project is managed by theWorldWideScienceAlliance backed by a bilateral agreement between the USDepartment of Energy's Office ofScientific and Technical Information (OSTI) and the BritishLibrary and run through the Paris-based InternationalCouncil for Scientific and Technical Information (ICSTI), Ablogon the OSTI site provides some background:

Thedilemma is that no single scientist can be expected to be aware ofthe hundreds of high-quality STI sources on the web. Moreover, evenif a person were aware of all of these sources, he or she simplywouldn’t have the time to search them one-by-one to find thescientific knowledge that will help accelerate his or her ownefforts. And, finally, this scientist will not be able to find thelarge majority of these resources through typical search engines(such as Google, Yahoo!, MSN, etc.) because most scientific databasesare only accessible in the “deep web.”

The answer proved to bethe creation of federated searching and precision relevance rankingtechnology to provide a single gateway to a number of nationalscience databases.

The CSIR putsSouth Africa on the map with its participation and its presence onthe Executive Board of the Alliance, while the 24 African countriesthat have journals in the AJOL service give Africa a much strongerpresence than it would have otherwise. Although up until recentlyAJOL has provided abstracts from its member journals, there are now39 open access journals available (including the SouthAfrican Journal of Medicine) and AJOL is in the process ofupgrading its website to provide full text to all journals. It is tobe hoped that there will be more open journals to come.

The story of the CSIR'sestablishment of its repository is an interesting one, described insome detail in anarticle in Ariadne by Martie van Deventer and Heila Pienaar in April2008. As Martie and Heila describe it, the process of creatinginstitutional repositories at the University of Pretoria and the CSIRwas an uphill slog, but one that has proved very worthwhile. Thestory is telling: the initiatives originality started out with a 2002national strategy for a framework for e-research, which resulted in2004 in the plan for a framework, SARIS. As it was planned, it wouldhave provided a national portal, Open Access standards and OAinstitutional repositories, and a digital curation service, all thislinked to the national innovation plan. However, as the authors putit, 'it soon became evident that there would be no nationalco-ordination of these efforts in the near future, and thatindividual institutions would have to start their own initiatives.Fortunately organisations such as eIFL and the Mellon Foundation havebeen playing an important role in the development of the SouthAfrican information industry and with their assistance severalinitiatives were kick- started.'

After a fairly fragmentedstart, things came together in 2007 and there is now a morecollaborative approach to creating institutional repositoriesn inSouth Africa, the article reports. There are now 10 South Africanrepositories listed in Open Doar. (UCT, by the way, does not have an institutional repository,although there are departmental repositories in ComputerScience and UCT Lawspacein the Faculty of Law, which is not listed in Open Doar).

As for the CSIR's ResearchSpace, which is now getting worldwide exposure (which can only begood for the institution and its reputation) the story is a familiarone of personal commitment by a group of dedicated advocates, helpedby collaboration and information-sharing with the University ofPretoria (UP) and its team. UP, with support from a strategiccommitment by senior management, in the wake of SARIS, created firstan institutional thesis and dissertations repository, UPeTD(with mandated deposit) and then a research repository, UPSpace.With growing support from academic staff, as the benefits ofincreased exposure became clear, and top-level commitment to thevalue of open access repositories, UP is considering a mandate fordeposit of academic articles.

At the CSIR, althoughthere was support for the idea of bringing the science council's bodyof research online in open access, barriers were created when theorganisation centralised its ICT management, so that the repositoryhad to queue for services. The situation was salvaged bycollaboration with the University of Pretoria and a more gradualapproach. From there the open access effect took over, as Googlesearches started to find the content that was being uploaded:

CSIRIS staff members werestill in the process of uploading documents when the IT departmentbecame aware of additional activity on their server. By the end ofApril 2007 just fewer than 6,000 copies of documents had beendownloaded… By the end of June, this figure had become more than28,000 documents. After several presentations and discussions it wasas if the organisation suddenly saw the potential of the initiativeand a formal decision was taken to make the repository part of theintegral design of the organisation’s new Internet site…Obviouslythe key stakeholders, government departments, are also pleasedbecause, in support of the CSIR’s core mandate (to improve thequality of lives of ordinary South Africans), publicly fundedresearch has become more accessible to a wider community.

The moral of the story – championship atinstitutional level is a necessary component if institutionalrepositories are to really fly, but this would go nowhere withoutdedication and commitment from the people driving this initiatives –from library and information services. The benefits become clearvery quickly and the added exposure for institutional (and national)research then becomes hard to ignore. A core problem in theinstitutions that are not following this path would appear to be afailure, that is all too common in South Africa, to recognise thestrategic importance of taking advantage of the opportunitiesoffered by digital technologies and the internet, not only forrepositories, but for its publishing activities more broadly . Mostuniversities in South Africa do not differ from their US colleagues,as the IthakaReport into University Publishing in a Digital Age, describes it:

Publishing generallyreceives little attention from senior leadership at universities andthe result has been a scholarly publishing industry that many in theuniversity community find to be increasingly out of step with theimportant values of the academy. As information transforms thelandscape of scholarly publishing, it is critical that universitiesdeploy the full range of their resources – faculty research andteaching activity, library collections, information technologycapacity, and publishing expertise – in ways that best serve bothlocal interests and the broader public interest. We will argue that arenewed commitment to publishing in its broadest sense can enableuniversities to more fully realize the potential global impact oftheir academic programs, enhance the reputations of their specificinstitutions, maintain a strong voice in determining what constitutesimportant scholarship and which scholars deserve recognition, and insome cases reduce costs. There seems to us to be a pressing andurgent need to revitalize the university’s publishing role andcapabilities in this digital age.

It is telling that both UCT and Wits, which claim thetop research spot in South Africa, do not appear to be taking this onboard at senior level. Why is this?


 


Stealing Empire – read, listen and join the subversion

This weekend, from 14-17 June the
Cape Town Book Fair
takes over the Cape Town International
Convention Centre, so this blog is about a new book, Stealing Empire, by Adam Haupt, published by the HSRC Press. Last year  close on 50,000 visitors attended,
giving the lie to the idea that South Africans don't read and are not
attracted to books. As Dave Chislett said today in his new blog – the
Chiz
– on The Times
newspaper's blog site
, the problem is not that people don't read
– witness the high circulation of popular newspapers –  but rather that
publishers do not publish for them, nor bookshops target readers
beyond the safe urban middle class. 

In celebration of the Book Fair, today I am therefore pointing to
a book by a UCT colleague and partner in the PALM
project
, Adam Haupt, that does not target the popular readership
Dave is talking about, but explores some of the issues of global
media dominance that is part of the proplem. Published by the
HSRC Press
, this is a scholarly title, but provides an incisive
and lively account of the ways in which global coroporate media
interests dominate and appropriate 'aspects of youth, race, gender,
cultural expression and technology for their own enrichment – much to
the detriment of all society.' However the real appeal of the book is
not only the study of how this appropriation works, but also of how,
in a country like South Africa countercultures like that of the
hip-hop activists in the Cape Flats of Cape Town in turn use new
media and IP subversion to appropriate their own space. The book
explores the MP3 revolution and Napster and digital sampling in
hip-hop and explores alternatives to proprietary approaches to the
production of culture and knowledge. This is a theorised account of
dominant culture and subversion, drawing largely on Michael Hardt and
Antonio Negri's concept of Empire. This use of theory, said UCT
deputy-Vice-Chancellor at the launch a few weeks ago, is in itself an
act of appropriation and subversion. We in the developing world,
Martin argued, are not supposed to theorise; rather, we are required
to provide the raw materials for the theorists of the North. 

The extra treat is that you can listen to a
podcast
on the book that includes discussion of the book and
material from what was a very lively launch. The book is published by
the HSRC Press, which launched the book at the Book Lounge in Cape
Town, with perfromances from Burni,of the Cape Town feminist hip-hop
group, Godessa and Caco the Noble Savage, a hip-hop activist with a
wonderfully ironic take on the impact of globalisation that is the
subject of the book. Being able to listen to the artists that Adam is
talking about provides an added dimenstion to the reading of the book
-a must-read accompanied by a must-listen. 

Given that this is an HSRC Press book, it is available full text
online for free download. Print copies are available for sale in
South Africa and in many other countries through print-on-demand
distribution arrangements. So enjoy the Book Fair, but read Adam's
book, too to get a critical perspectiveof the forces at play

Adam will be speaking in a panel at the Book Fair on Saturday afternoon – “Holding us
together or pulling us apart?” The role of the South African Media
in the creation and mutation of identities." 

A major boost for Open Access scholarly publishing in South Africa – the Academy of Science springs into action

I
came back from a meeting of the Academy
of Science (ASSAF)
Committee on Scholarly Publishing in South
Africa (CSPiSA) last week feeling bouyed up and looking forward to a
period of rapid developments in Open Access scholarly publishing in
South Africa. We were told that the

Department of Science and Technology
(DST) has now dedicated a substantial three-year budget to fund
the implementation of ASSAF's recommendations for the development of
scholarly publication in South Africa. This is important stuff – a
forward-looking government department investing in a major way in the
development of scholarly publication, linking this to the country's
strategic science and technology growth objectives and offering
support for what is in many ways a visionary Open Access programme
that is expected to deliver considerable progress in the next three
years.

The
ASSAF
Report on Scholarly Publishing in SA
was
an important milestone in the development of a coherent and effective
scholarly publishing environment in SA. As reported in earlier

blogs, the Report was commissioned by the DST and produced what was
probably the most coherent account of the state of scholarly
journal publishing in South Africa, concluding with a set of 10
recommendations which included strong support for the development of
a 'gold route' Open Access approach to journal publishing in South
Africa.

The
central vision of the report is for quality-controlled and government
supported publication of open access journals of a sufficient quality
to deliver local impact and international recognition. Quality
control is to be through a peer review process carried out across the
different discuplines in collaboration with the National Journal
Editors' Forum. Financial support for open access journal
publication, it proposed, would be by way of the dedication of a
small percentage of the revenue paid to journals through the
Department
of Education (DoE) publication grant system
, for the purpose of
paying per-article author charges through the institution where the
author is based.

Backing
this up is a recommendation for the creation of a national technical
and promotional platform for hosting and profiling the best South
African journals, possibly along the lines of SciELO in Latin
America. It is envisaged that the national platform would host
selected journals that would profile the best of South African
research.

It
seems that the DST's motivation in offering this support is linked to
its
10-year
plan for human capital development
,
which proposes a radical growth in the level of postgraduate degrees,
publications and innovation levels in higher education. The ASSAf
scholarly publication programme is thus seen as a key to the process
of raising the bar for the quality and output of research in the
country and leveraging upwards the profile of the country in the
international research rankings, while at the same time improving the
positive impact of research on economic growth and social
development.

Open
Access has been recommended not only in response to the need for
increased accessibility but also for higher levels of international
visibility and citation counts to profile South African research in
the conventional international rankings. While the focus of this
programme is fairly conventional, focusing primarily on peer reviewed
scholarly journals that could perform well in the international
citation rankings, this is a major step forward simply because it
puts publication of South African research in South Africa in the
spotlight and, through links with the African Academies of Science, connects this to a broader effort to raise publication levels on the
continent. (The creation of an African citation index is one of the
recommendations in the ASSAf Report on Scholarly Publishing in South
Africa.) And, even more important, this intervention at last
recognises that scholarly publishers need support if South Africa
research is to be properly disseminated.

We understand that
the DST accepts that this model may require long term subsidisation
for Open Access journal support and this support is perceived as part
of a national service project to build capacity and serve every
scholar. To me, as a publisher, this is of central importance. In the
OpeningScholarship
project at the University
of Cape Town,
for example, we have discovered that the
university tracks the authorship of articles (with the purpose of
securing the grants that the DoE pays for publication in accredited
journals), but that there is no tracking of publication – who is
editing or publishing what and where. Publication efforts –
editing, peer reviewing and producing scholarly and other
publications – are therefore invisible and, not surprisingly I
think, under-supported. This is surely detrimental to the
university, as this is an opportunity lost to profile the
considerable contribution that this leading research university makes
to scholarship and development initiatives in the region.

CSPiSA's
delivery of the activities that have been prioritised should start
very soon now: the rolling peer review of journals across different
subject area will be carried out in collaboration with the

Journal Editors' Forum

(see
my
blog
on the
inaugural meeting of the Forum last year). The idea is that this will
not only be a quality evaluation process but will be designed to
provide the potential for the development of the knowledge and skills
that could lead to quality improvement. Agreement on the composition
of the review panels is being sought and the first subject areas to
be reviewed should start rolling out soon.

A
further intervention being undertaken over the next six months, this
time with DoE support, is the production of a Report on a Strategic
Approach to Scholarly Book Publishing by a selected panel of experts,
following a fact-finding investigation by CREST at the University of
Stellenbosch. Provisional findings should be available for
presentation at the National Scholarly Journal Editors' Forum in July
and it is hoped that the final report should be ready for release in November. Another important milestone, this, as book publication is seriously under-supported and under-valued in South African policy, in spite of the remarkable success of the open access social science research council publisher,
the HSRC Press.

Let's see where we are this time next year. Much further down the road, I suspect.  

 

UCT signs the Cape Town Declaration

The University of Cape Town –
which is one of South Africa's leading research universities – last
week became one of the few major universities worldwide to sign the
Cape Town Declaration
on Open Education
(previously blogged here and here). The Declaration was signed by  Deputy 
Vice-Chancellor Martin Hall, at a function in the Senate Room, hosted
by the D-VC's office, the Centre for
Higer Education Development
and the Centre
for Educational Technology
and supported by the Shuttleworth Foundation. The motivation for the event came
from the OpeningScholarship
project, both because Cheryl Hodgekinson-Williams and I were
participants in the inaugural workshop for the drafting of the
Declaration and because it is becoming clear as the
OpeningScholarship project nears the end of its first phase that
there is undoubtedly a role to be played by opening education
resources at UCT. The function was a great success, judging from the
comments of UCT blogger Retroid
Raving:

 I just had to comment on
this function: I had ignored what I thought was a boilerplate
invitation, only to be told sternly that they really did want to see
me there…so I went, and I was glad I did.

Prawns.  Serious
three-corner jobs and hot sauce.  Fruit kebabs.  Satay
chicken.  A more-than-passable Merlot/Cab blend….

Oh, and folk from the
Shuttleworth Foundation, a public signing of the Declaration
– and some very interesting conversation with folk that I only
ever meet at occasions like this….

I was very glad to discover
that the penetration of computer technology in to education at UCT
has come a long way since the old M(M)EG days, of which Martin Hall
reminded us – and that WebCT, which I found so clunky I never got
into it, despite trying hard – is completely superseded by Vula.

The reference here to Vula
(the UCT version of Sakai)
is apposite: in his speech, Martin Hall tracked the impetus for UCT's
signing  of the Declaration back to  the decision made a
few years ago to establish the Centre for Educational Technology as a
unit within the Centre for Higher Education Development – thus
identifying it as part of the university's development initiative –
and the decision to invest in becoming the first SAKAI partner
outside the USA.

The link between Sakai and OERs was endorsed a
few weeks ago at UCT by President Mary Sue Coleman of Michigan
University when a Michigan delegation visited UCT to renew the
partnership agreement between the two institutions. President Coleman
announced
the launch of a joint programme to develop open education
resources in the Faculty of Medicine at UCT: 

A

Our final area of growing partnership
is knowledge sharing. Of course, everything we have discussed with
university leaders this week involves the exchange of ideas and
concepts. This specific initiative combines the dissemination of
knowledge with the immediacy and accessibility of global
communication. 

Medical education and research is so
critical in today’s world, and we want to collaborate with South
African institutions to develop and provide open Internet access to
educational materials in medicine, public health and the health
sciences.The soul of
scholarship is research. From the current to the ancient,
universities must make all information accessible to faculty,
students, and the public.

A point of pride
for us is the creation of Sakai, the first global consortium of
higher education institutions using the concepts and technologies of
Open Educational Resources. Open Educational Resources encompass a
range of information – such as textbooks, course materials,
software and more – that can be accessed and re-used at no charge,
and already, more than 150 universities around the world draw upon
Sakai’s resources. 

We want to create
the same level of exchange between the University of Michigan’s
health sciences schools – medicine, nursing, public health and
dentistry – and medical students and faculty throughout Africa, so
they can access materials to supplement their medical educations. 

Speaking at
the signing of the Declaration, Martin Hall said that the freedoms of the internet must
be protected, or else knowledge will become a heavily-priced
commodity. 'Universities are not Mickey Mouse', he said, expanding on
the role of big corporates in the extension of copyright protection.
'The commercialisation of intellectual property presents difficult
challenges for a university', he argued. 'Universities thrive on
making knowledge freely available and the Cape Town Open Education
Declaration establishes important principles for ensuring that this
happens.'

 The function was a useful moment to step back and take stock
of how far open approaches are taking hold at UCT. A gratifying
number of senior academics and administrators expressed support;
attendance from the academic staff included a number of new faces,
rather than only the usual suspects; and most gratifying, there was
enthusiastic support from the students. SHAWCO,
the long-established student-run NGO, that offers health,
educational  and welfare services, signed as an organisation and
SHAWCO leaders want to engage further with the potential offered by
the Declaration. 

Given this
impetus, it will be interesting to see where open education will be
at UCT in another year's time.  

The state of the nation 2008 – belatedly

Looking back, I see that the last time I posted a blog was in November 2007.
It is now April 2008. This should not be read as a sign that things here have
ground to a halt. On the contrary, a hectic round of overwork has
overtaken our lives, a treadmill of projects, meetings, workshops, and
conferences. I hope that this means that South
Africa is moving forward in opening scholarly
communications. However, South
Africa is never straightforward, so in
reviewing what has been happening while I have had my head down all
these months, I do not expect to report unremitting sunshine – there have been
some showers, although overall the signs are good.

This overview of the projects that are in progress right now is the first
instalment of a review of the way the year is looking – with quite a few items
that I will need to pick up in more detail in upcoming blogs.

Collaborative Projects

In November 2006, in Bangalore, some of us – funders and consultants – got
together to propose some collaboration in trying to map across one another to
create greater coherence achieving our mutual goals of  more open and effective research communications
in Africa. This was discussed again in a meeting at iCommons in Dubrovnik in June 2006
and we are now beginning to see the results. One major benefit that has emerged
is that the projects that are now being implemented, because they are
built on open access principles, can share each others' research findings
and resources, reducing duplication and increasing impact. The projects also
recognise that achieving policy change is a multi-pronged process, working at
all levels of the university system, from individual lecturers (often young and
lively innovators at the junior end of the hierarchy) to senior administrators
and government policy-makers.  Leveraging
the impact of several projects to achieve this makes a lot of sense.  

The projects I am now involved in, that are part of this collaboration,  include:

  • OpeningScholarship, a
    UCT-based project, funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation, is using a case study approach to explore the
    potential of ICT use and social networking to transform scholarly
    communication between scholars, lecturers and students, and the university
    and the community.
  • PALM Africa (Publishing and
    Alternative Licensing in Africa), funded by the IDRC, is exploring what the
     the application of flexible licensing regimes – including the
    newly-introduced CC+ and ACAP – can do to facilitate increased access to
    knowledge in South Africa and Uganda through the use of new business
    models combining open access and sustainable commercial
    models.
  • A2K Southern Africa,
    another IDRC project, is investigating research publication and open
    access in universities in the Southern African Regional Universities
    Association.
  • The Shuttleworth Foundation
    and the OSI are supporting the Publishing Matrix project which is using an
    innovative, wiki-based approach to map the South African publishing
    industry along the whole value chain in such a way as to identify
    where open access publishing models could have most impact.  

Some interesting results are already emerging. The sharing of resources is
speeding up the process of getting projects off the ground. Researchers are given
instant access to background reports, bibliographies and readings and can
review each others' tagged readings in del-icio-us. The advantages become
obvious as I head off this evening for a planning workshop for the researchers
carrying out the A2KSA investigations  with
a range of briefing materials and readings instantly to hand.

Even more interestingly, having Frances Pinter of the PALM project explain
to South African publishers and NGOs that flexible licensing
models had the potential to defuse the stand-off between open access advocates and commercial
publishers, and members of the OpeningScholarship team at the same
meeting explaining how the use of new learning environments was changing the way
teaching and learning was happening, led to some unexpected enthusiasm for the
potential of new business models. Then Juta, the largest of the South African
academic textbook publishers, asked for a day-long workshop at UCT with the
OpeningScholarship and PALM teams to study these issues.  I have little doubt that listening to some of
the innovative approaches that are being taken by young lecturers at UCT
opened the publishers’ minds to the need to push further their forward
thinking about the ways in which their businesses might change in the near
future. A similar discussion is to be held with OUP South Africa in the next
week.

 

Open Source and Open Access connect

We have found useful spaces in Vula – the UCT version of the Sakai learning management
environment – to maintain project
communications and track progress in our projects, using its social networking tools (something we perhaps learned from students
who identified this potential for student societies).  Funders and guests
from other projects can eavesdrop, creating greater coherence within and across
project teams and giving donors a real sense of participation in the projects
they are funding.

Vula, by the way has been hugely successful at UCT and there has been a
steady and very substantial growth in the number of courses online  – reaching over 800 already this year (from
under 200 in 2006) – and enthusiastic endorsement by students of the usefulness
of the learning environment. I have little doubt that the flexibility of an
open source system leads in turn to the potential for more openness in the use
of teaching materials –  but more of that
in a separate blog.

Open Education celebration

Right now, to celebrate UCT’s  commitment to Open Education, we are heading
down the hill to the Senate Room, where there is to be an official signing of
the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, making UCT, I think, one of the first
major universities to sign as an institution. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Martin Hall will sign
for the university and around 50 guests, from senior academics and administrators
to students will, we hope, sign individually, before raising a glass of good
South African wine to the potential for opening the gates of learning.