During the first week of November, South Africa was host to two major Open Access meetings: Open Access Africa (#OAAfrica2012), an event sponsored by BioMed Central and hosted by the University of Cape Town from November 4-5, and Berlin 10 (#Berlin10SA), hosted by Stellenbosch University from November 6-8, 2012. Approximately 150 delegates attended the Open Access Africa meeting, and nearly 270 delegates participated in Berlin 10. Collectively, the two meetings covered Open Access issues in great depth, breadth, and scope. This article is the second in a series and focuses on issues broadly related to Open Access and implications for higher education institutions that were raised during both meetings. Part 1 can be accessed here, part 2 is available here.
Higher Education, Organizational Culture, and Change Management
At the Open Access Africa meeting, Laura Czerniewicz from the University of Cape Town focused on organizational culture in her presentation, “Institutional responses to the changing higher education environment: the case of UCT.” She suggested that institutions of higher education typical have “entrenched cultural practices,” which should be a key factor when considering what approach to take to implement Open Access or any other major change affecting an organization’s culture and that advocacy for openness needs to be context specific in order to be successful.
Czerniewicz presented a framework of institutional cultural types as described in I. McNay’s 1995 publication, From Collegial Academy to Corporate Enterprise: The Changing Cultures of Universities. Using this framework, she noted that many universities, including UCT, would be characterized as a “collegium” type of institution, where there is a loose policy definition and a loose control over policy implementation. She explained that the collegiums type is characterized by “loose institutional policy definition, informal networks and decision arenas, and innovation at the level of the individual or a department.” The organizational response then is one of ‘laissez faire,’ with few targeted policies or processes.
In this type of environment, “requiring academics to do something they don’t believe in is useless.” Czerniewicz suggested that you need to align your strategies, principles, and approach to the desired organizational change. Their approach to building the UCT “Openness Agenda” thus reflects their specific context and culture. They emphasized individual control and maximum flexibility for faculty. They developed multiple strategies, not a one-size-fits-all approach. They also looked for champions at all levels within the university to help build their case. She noted that in their experience, “champions work best in horizontal networked relationships, building communities of practices.” Furthermore, the team advocates for the UCT openness agenda by getting involved in the critical elements of university life – they are involved in the committee structure. “Being in the right meetings and inserting ourselves in the right discussions is critical.”
In terms of content, UCT has taken a far more holistic approach to open knowledge than many institutions. The OpenUCT initiative supports a wide range of resources – whole courses to more granular items such as a single ebook, presentations, podcasts, lecture notes, images, and animations. Their goal is to make the work that occurs at the university discoverable, and so they put materials online in ways that encourage findability and discoverability. Czerniewicz explained that they “turn resources into shareable resources.”
Possibilities and Challenges of OA for African Universities & Researchers
Jonathan Harle, Programmes Manager for the Association of Commonwealth Universities, raised several questions related to the connection between institutional research capacity and Open Access, particularly for African universities and researchers. One interesting point: a significant issue facing many researchers is that of awareness – i.e. the inaccurate perception among researchers who they think they can’t access a particular journal or article when in fact they can, either through Open Access or through a free/heavily-discounted access-to-knowledge programme such as Research4Life or PERii. Harle mentioned an anecdote from a seminar in Nairobi where a high-level research administration official complained of having poor access to journals, to which a senior librarian from the same institution responded that they now had access to 34,000 titles. But having access to journals does not mean that researchers are aware of that access or that they are able to access those articles via their mechanism of choice.
Harle raised concerns about whether OA, “while aiming to enhance the positions of African researchers, might actually shut them out.” He noted concern with article processing charges in particular – might this lead to “[researchers from] developing countries being able to read all research but not publish [in Open Access journals] because of APCs?” Even with APC waivers, is this scalable and sustainable for all disciplines? Are all authors willing to ask for waivers if they are not automatically granted?
The possibilities of Open Access are tremendous for researchers in their role as knowledge consumers. Harle noted that there is a much wider body of literature to draw upon, researchers from developing countries are less cut off from their international peers and there is a greater potential for collaboration. Even so, there are still challenges. We are currently enmeshed in a hybrid open and closed environment, where some materials are free to access and free to be re-used but others are not. “Searching, discovering, navigating is a huge challenges for researchers, whether open or not.”
Linkages between Open Access, Journal Impact Factor, and Rewards/Tenure Systems
While not a new problem, voices are getting louder and more emphatic arguing for eliminating or at least overhauling the ISI Impact Factor system – and urging institutions to look at other ways to measure researcher performance. At most universities around the world, tenure, promotion, and other types of performance rewards are closely linked to authors’ publication record as calculated by impact factor. Due to a combination of the criteria for how Thomson-Reuters selects journals for inclusion in their rankings and the young age of new Open Access journals, authors – particularly those in the early stages of their career – have strong incentives for publishing in journals with a high ISI Impact Factor. Several speakers throughout the week spoke out strongly against using the ISI Journal Impact Factor as a measure of quality. Tom Olijhoek went into great deal about problems with the ISI Impact Factor. Cameron Neylon argued for adoption of altmetrics as an alternative to the ISI Impact Factor. More details about this discussion are available here.
Implications for University Libraries
Most universities that support Open Access do so by implementing a policy and requiring deposit of all faculty scholarship into an institutional repository, one that is managed by the university’s library. While hosting a repository takes systems administration work and ongoing technical support, as Eve Gray said, introducing the technology is just the first step – it’s not just about platforms, the platforms need to be integrated throughout the institution and its infrastructure, i.e. research, teaching, and learning. At many institutions, the library does not have the capacity to handle all of the facets of this work.
While repository work may be philosophically aligned with the work librarians have been carrying out for centuries, the details of repository management – and in particular, the set of services offered around Open Access and open content – are very different and require capacity development and skills training. Helena Asamoah-Hassan, the University Librarian at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana, focused on this element of Open Access in her presentation at Open Access Africa. Their repository “went global” in 2009, and has been growing gradually but steadily ever since.
Asamoah-Hassan explained that they started with capacity building even before the institution had committed to Open Access. They wanted to get buy-in from the key stakeholders before investing resources in training staff and needed the capacity building so faculty/researchers could understand the benefits of having a repository. Among other activities, they have built capacity by engaging in a number of activities such as holding workshops, forums, and other opportunities for academic departments and the university as a whole to share knowledge and engage in discussions. KNUST has made a point to use citation statistics and other types of data to help prove how items from the repository are being cited. From the library’s perspective, Open Access is not just about the repository; new roles have been created as a result of this work – administering article processing charges, liaising with publishers, dealing with intellectual property rights issues, and engaging in advocacy.
Students as Stakeholders
Another source of potential advocates for Open Access, and a group that has not been part of most discussions up to this point, is students. At Open Access Africa, Daniel Mutonga from the Medical Students’ Association of Kenya, provided his perspective, while Berlin 10 included a complimentary presentation from Nick Shockey of the Right to Research Coalition, an organization for students in support of Open Access that works in connection with SPARC. Mutonga’s presentation clearly argued for Open Access from the perspective of students. He succinctly presented the argument for “why students need OA.” He argued that students need Open Access for:
- A complete education
- If your professors can’t read it, they can’t teach it
- Research for papers
- The current system puts students from smaller students at a disadvantage
- Research beyond the degree – you still need access to research as a doctor or member of the public
The two presentations about students and Open Access produced quite a bit of buzz by delegates.
Final Thoughts & Takeaways
Although Berlin 10 has ended, many of the conversations and dialogues started at the meeting have continued in various forum. Starting this week, the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) at Sussex University is hosting a conversation on the UNESCO Knowledge Communities Platform in the Open Access community. The central theme is “Is Open Access only for rich countries?” The conversation will continue for several weeks and is open to the public.
Likewise, Professor Russel Botman, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University, published an article this week in University World News, “Open access to knowledge will boost Africa’s development,” continuing to advocate for Open Access within the international higher education community.
In the article, he writes:
“In this time of flux, there is a window of opportunity for us to improve two things – particularly for Africa: access, and visibility.”
“Open access paves the way for those who need to participate more fully in the knowledge community. They do not have to pay subscription fees for scientific journals, which are frequently unaffordable to under-resourced institutions. And at the same time, open access increases the visibility of research coming from the developing world.”
“In this way, greater equity is achieved. If knowledge is the currency of our time, then open access amounts to the redistribution mechanism of that wealth – hence it can be regarded as hope-generating.”
This emphasis on Open Access supporting both global knowledge consumption and global knowledge production was a major theme throughout both meetings and hopefully will continue to be discussed.
The full week of meetings generated a tremendous amount of content and thought-provoking discussions. It is readily apparent that Open Access has turned a corner during 2012. Conversations in the Global North have shifted from whether Open Access is a good strategy to more specific discussions about sustainable implementation and maximizing use of Open Access resources. Even so, Open Access poses real challenges for the Global South, particularly for locally-produced publications. While answers to many of these questions are still murky, it is heartening to see many of these issues raised on the international stage and that stakeholder groups continue to broaden — it is no longer simply a library issue.
These notes do not include a full account of the sessions. Several other useful recaps highlight other aspects of the conference: