The worlds 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 open-access 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 SPARCnewsletter) 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?’

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