Tag Archives: Academy of Science of South Africa

The policy gap – research communication in limbo in South Africa’s new Green Paper

South Africa has a shiny new Green Paper on Post-School Education. However policy weary we might be, this is, refreshingly, a good document, with the right ambitions for the overdue overhaul of the higher and further education sector.  It quite rightly identifies the country’s huge deficit in further education and the failure to provide sufficient training for employment to meet the overwhelming need in this sector. This policy document does not appear to fall into the trap of trying to turn universities into human resource factories, but rather seeks to leverage the strengths of the most functional institutions to help upgrade the under-developed further education sector.

If the Green Paper is implemented as its stands, the universities are facing a considerable upward trend in the number of postgraduate degrees to support sector growth; greater research differentiation between institutions; enhanced attention to teaching and learning effectiveness; effective use of ICT for increased efficiencies in distance and face to face learning; expansion in the number of academics to meet increased teaching and learning and research targets; and the encouragement and nurturing of young academics. Extra funding is proposed to meet these needs. The driving ethos is that of collaboration, cooperation and intra-institutional synergy to ensure that the stronger institutions can contribute to the upgrading of the weaker ones. The Green Paper places itself firmly in the 21st century as it proposes the adoption of flexible and innovative models of teaching and learning delivery, building on the affordances of information technologies. This is articulated as a way of improving access and increasing economies of scale.

This is an enlightened view of university education that includes, gratifyingly, the endorsement of collaboratively developed open educational resources, the idea of collaborative learning networks, online student support, and the suggestion that government might support the production of open textbooks. The support of UNESCO for OER, as part of  ‘a growing international movement’ (p. 59), is clearly an important motivating force behind this radical move. Indeed, as I write, the SA government is co-hosting a UNESCO Forum on OER Policy in Africa.  The Green Paper mentions UNESCO’s work on open education resources as a motivation for these provisions, but does not respond to the more recent development in UNESCO of an Open Access programme, launched in late 2011 at the UNESCO Open Access Forum.

The UNESCO OA initiative provides some guidelines on what would constitute a more expansive vision of what needs to be done by way of national policy for the creation of a comprehensive approach to research publications and communications. The initiative focuses explicitly on Africa, saying that in spite of improvements in ICT availability, awareness of OA remains low on the continent and in other developing countries. The brochure produced to launch this initiative summarises the advantages of OA thus:

 Through Open Access, researchers and
 students from around the world gain increased
 access to knowledge, publications receive greater
 visibility and readership, and the potential impact
 of research is heightened. Increased access to and
 sharing of knowledge leads to opportunities for equitable economic and social development, intercultural dialogue, and has the potential to spark innovation.

 In other words, OA is perceived in the UNESCO programme as a driver for the development impact from research that the SA government has persistently asked for. It is also the capacity builder that the Green Paper seeks, a space in which research processes and findings can be shared and these findings made available for the creation of learning and training materials and ‘translated’ for use by businesses, social entrepreneurs, and communities. As I set out in an earlier blog on the UNESCO OA Forum ,  UNESCO follows in this initiative behind a number of other organisations and countries that are investigating and adopting new regional and national frameworks for research communication, based on rapidly-changing digital research practices.

The research communications gap in the SA Green Paper

Disappointingly, this is not reflected in the SA Green Paper – a big hole at the centre of its 21st century vision – with no attention paid to the need for national policy to address access to knowledge through the communication and publication of research. All that we get is the statement that the government wants to ‘increase the number of patents and products developed by our universities and research institutions’ (p. 44).  It looks as if we are back in the 20th century industrial economy vision of research ‘outputs’ (patents and journal articles) driving national economic development, a very limited view of the potential of research in a digital world.

It is not that our government is not aware of the advantages of OA. It has undertaken investigation of research publication in the last decade. The Department of Science and Technology commissioned evidence-based research from the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF) on a Strategic Approach to Research Publishing in South Africa  (2006) and as a result supports the ASSAF Scielo South Africa programme for the creation of an open access platform for accredited local journals. The Department of Higher Education and Training has accepted and is implementing an ASSAF report on scholarly books, which includes open access proposals.

These initiatives – as valuable as they are – impact relatively little on the institutions and the ways in which they do or do not support the communication of research. Without the development of more comprehensive national research communication policy, there is room for the persistence of a free-rider syndrome that has the universities and their academics perceive publication as something that someone else does. There is no policy pressure for universities to support the communication and publication efforts of their academics nor to ensure that research investment results in access to the knowledge that has been produced. Where there have been open access initiatives, for the creation of research repositories and, in the case of Stellenbosch University, investment in the creation of an open access journal publishing programme, these have been the result of the hard work of individual champions and forward-looking administrators and so they risk remaining isolated examples in a fragmented system.

What is missing is a comprehensive, nationally-based approach to the communication of research and the infrastructure, skills and support systems  needed to support this. This could be the glue that could hold together a really forward-looking South African research effort, one that could do what it does best – operate at the cutting edge of high-technology research development, as it is doing in the Square Kilometre Array project as well as producing high-level research that impacts directly on improving people’s lives and contributes to national development.

UNESCO has outlined the different drivers that need to be addressed in a national policy of this kind – technology network infrastructure; institutional frameworks to reflect changes in scholarly communication; new business models to reflect societal expectations; collaboration within communities of researchers; and alignment with the national R&D system. These all face challenges in the existing system for institutions and governments that need to be met in comprehensive policy initiatives. I will look at these in my next blog.

* Illustration: Attribution Some rights reserved by F. Montino


ASSAf Journal Editors Forum holds its inugural meeting

The Academy of Science of South Africa’s (ASSAf”s) first Journal Editor’s Forum held its inaugural meeting in late July. This was an important event marking what many hope might be the beginning of a new era of expansion and greater impact for scholarly publishing from South Africa. This event marks the first step in implementing the recommendations of ASSA’fs five-year research study of the state of scholarly publication in South Africa. The wide range of recommendations focuses primarily on the strengthening of both the quality and the volume of scholarly publishing, particularly of journals, using an Open Access model. The Journal Editors’ Forum is a consultative body, participating as a community of practice to help build consensus around the road ahead for scholarly publishing.

The meeting was remarkably well attended, with upwards of 100 journal editors and other interested bodies participating. Discussion was wide-ranging and lively and there appeared to be general degree of support for the proposals, including the Open
Access proposals, with the biggest stumbling blocks appearing to be a perceived need to retain print publications, with the sustainability issues that that raised; and the question of society publishers.

Opening address

In his opening address, Dr Bethuel Sehlapelo, Human and Knowledge Resources at the Department of Science and Technology, said that knowledge systems and knowledge production were central to the DST’s new 10-year plan
for a National System of Innovation. The growth targets that have been set in this plan are ambitious: the current number of PhDs annually is 567 a year and this is expected to rise to 3,000 by 2017. The percentage of accredited journal articles published out of South Africa is currently 0.5% of world output and this is targeted to rise to 2.5%. From this perspective, it was evident that the ASSAf proposals for the development of scientific publishing are central to the DST’s main enterprise in growing South Africa’s output and ranking in the global scholarly system, he said.

Dr Wieland Gevers outlined the mission of the Academy of Science of South Africa . The Academy, in line with
its international colleagues, he said, is a consultative body aimed to offer the best expertise, independently of government, on
science-based policy issues. The first project it has undertaken has been its research and policy proposals on scholarly publishing and knowledge production. The Report on Scholarly Publishing in South Africa arising out of this research took note of the potential of new technologies and of Open Access publishing. The recommendations made in the Report focus on the need to support and grow an indigenous South African scholarly publishing industry with international stature, using an Open Access
publishing model. This presupposes the provision of quality assurance as a necessary underpinning, particularly if this initiative is to attract government support. The proposal is for the voluntary adoption of a code of African journal editors and the peer review of sets of journals in order to make recommendations about issues such as accreditation, funding, and copyright.

This quality assurance role would need to be managed with a light touch, he said, a way suitable for a developing country. In this
process, great importance would be placed on developing the next generation of South African scholars. There would need to be support for writers to learn to write well and appropriately in the various disciplines. There would be collaboration with the Higher Education Quality Council in order to feed into the way in which quality standards were to be developed.

As far as a publishing model was concerned, Dr Gevers said that there was an opportunity for the country, using the modality of Open Access gold route publishing, to grow the output and reach of its research publishing, with sustainability coming from government subsidy supplemented by author and institutional charges, as well as other streams of finance. He said that in South Africa, if we are to deliver a high profile publication programme, we cannot avoid Open Access as the major option of the future. When one looks at the traditional, print and subscription model of journal publishing, with its small print runs and slow turnaround times, it is clear that there is no option, he argued, as OA would greatly enhance the impact, reach and speed of the dissemination of South African scholarship.

New technology tools, such as an open source journal management platform, could be made available as a shared resource managed by ASSAf on behalf of participating journal editors.

Government departments were working with the Academy, exploring the extent to which this revolution can be achieved. What was being aimed for was a virtual national information system. In doing this, the Academy would become part of the programme that the Department of Science and Technology was building to increase the human capital of
the country.

There was lively discussion among the journal editors attending around a number of issues.

Thomson Scientific Indexes

From the outset, some editors queried the validity of the focus of government policy on the Thomson Scientific indexes, pointing out that that these were of limited relevance to a developing country’s interests. This linked into further questions about the place of South African scholarly publishing in the context of an Africa-wide approach and the appropriate quality standards that should be applied in such a context. It was agreed that an effort would need to be made to explore the potential of a South African index or an Africa-wide index for quality scholarly publishing and there would have to be discussions with the Departments of Education and Science and Technology to coordinate the ways in which these issues could be tackled.

Green Route repositories

Questions were also asked about the policy for Green Route research repositories, in line with recommendations being made in the rest of the world. Wieland Gevers pointed out that the recommendations of the ASSAf report included support for a national
system of harvesting of institutional repositories. This would be particularly important in providing access to pre-and post-prints of articles published in expensive toll-access international journals.

Department of Education Policy

The Department of Education’s policy for scholarly publishing was heavily criticised, both for generating an over-emphasis on
publication in overseas journals even when very high-quality and globally recognised local alternatives were available; and for
under-valuing publication in books, chapters in books and conference proceedings, something that was particularly damaging to the humanities and social sciences. It was agreed that these issues needed to be raised with the DoE and Wieland Gevers reported that the department would be funding ASSAf during the course of 2008 to investigate the question of quality standards for the recognition of non-journal publications.

Sustainability issues

Questions were asked about the question of sustainability for Open Access journals, given the precarious state of most South African journals. Gevers pointed out that the ASSAf proposals included recommendations for the top-slicing of a small percentage of the DoE subsidies at institutional level. This would provide a per-article subsidy that would make a substantial contribution to viability. However, this was not a finished debate and these were proposals for discussions with the community of journal editors and with government. Dr Sehlapelo said that government was concerned about sustainability and would like to forge a partnership between the academy, industry and government to find a model that does not give the role of sustaining publication to one party only – government.

Contradictory policies in the DST

Monica Seeber, representing the Association for Academic and Non-Fiction Writers, pointed to clash in DST policy, given that the provisions for the Draft Bill on Intellectual Property Rights in Publicly Funded Research appeared to contradict the Open Access policies for publication that were being debated here. Many delegates expressed reservations during the course of the day about the very wide-ranging scope of the provisions of the Draft IPR Bill and its potential to derail scholarly publishing. In the afternoon workshop sessions it was agreed that the Draft Bill would be very damaging to scholarly publishing and that ASSAf should take this up with the DST.

Quality standards and capacity limitations

Queries were raised as to how the proposed expansion of scholarly publishing could be achieved, given the capacity shortfall in many academic disciplines and particularly problems experienced by young academics, often working in a second or third language, in acquiring the communication skills needed for participation in scholarly discourse. Wieland Gevers responded that there are plans built into the recommendations for ASSAf to help build capacity in scholarly writing and editing skills, working with existing courses and mentorship programmes in the universities. ASSAf would provide supplementary support and hoped to be a platform for skilled people who could help contribute, by way of mentorship and skills transfer, to increase capacity and raise quality standards.

The involvement of the Department of Arts and Culture

One delegate asked abut the possible involvement of the Department of Arts and Culture in the ASSAf initiative, arguing that,
particularly when it came to scholarship in the preforming arts, that there was a role for them to play. the answer was that ASSAf saw its role as building interaction wilt all departments involved in scholarly publishing.

Session 2: Publishing Models Paul Peters, Hindawi

In the second session of the day, which focused on publishing models for Open Access publishing, presentations were made by Paul Peters of Hindawi Publishing Corporation in Egypt and Pierre de Villiers of the South African Family Practice journal.

Paul Peters gave an impassioned account of the success story of Hindawi, an African-based publisher which has developed a
financially sustainable and successful Open Access journal publishing business, now the third-largest commercial Open Access publisher in the world. It was a powerful presentation which held the undivided attention of his audience of journal editors for nearly an hour, as he spelled out the different ingredients of Hindawi’s recipe for success. His main message was that African scholarly publishers cannot afford not to go Open Access: all the evidence shows that this is the one way of expanding access to African journals, increasing visibility, attracting a wide range of high quality authors from across the world, and growing the impact of the journals.

Hindawi now publishes 80 journals (in 2004 they had 15) , and is growing this by 1-2 new titles a month. In February 2007 the last of Hindawi’s journals went entirely Open Access. They now get 500 submissions a month. growing at 50% a year.

Hindawi uses an electronic review system to ensure that the process is handled efficiently and rapidly. Paul Peters recommended
that journal editors use an open source system such as Open Journal Systems rather than opting for the inflexibility of commercial systems or the expense of in-house systems.

Traditional subscription systems limit accessibility, Peters said, and are an artefact of the paper world. For smaller journals , he
said, Open Access is not an option, but is essential, as it is simply not possible for smaller developing country journals to get their publications out into the world in the print subscription model. The choice is an Open Access model or a failing subscription model.

Publication charges only work well in fell-funded research areas, he said, and this is very discipline-specific. Advertising is a
possibility, but there are ethical issues in some disciplines. External support by way of direct subsidy is another sustainability
model, but the best option is a mixture of sources of finance.

For Hindawi, the cost of providing discoverability is spread by using a centralised platform. This makes life easier for authors and editors and allows for more oversight of the journal.

Pierre de Villiers, SA Family Practice Journal

The South African Family Practice journal, Pierre de Villers said, uses advertising as its main source of revenue and was very successful as a print journal in terms of its print run and the availability of resources. However, it was still a local journal and the editors wanted to achieve an international status for it. They therefore tried, with limited success, to get into the international indexes. They listed on African Journals Online. Then, when Google Scholar came along, the editors recognised the potential of a system that indexes the full text of scholarly literature.

The journal opted to use the Open Journal System to make the journal more viable. The result was an exponential growth in
submissions and visits to the journal site. They now get manuscripts from across Africa. International reviewers can register online and indicate their interest in joining peer review panels and manuscripts from related disciplines. Review time has been reduced by 50%. The journal has seen an increase of 33% in its published research. It is currently only partially OA – the full text of review articles is available online but only abstracts of the research papers. The journal generates revenue from online advertising.

The Family Practice Journal has established a support service for users of Open Journal Systems in South Africa.

Summing up – Wieland Gevers

Summing up after an afternoon workshop sessio, Wieland Gevers said that the ASSAf initiative for scholarly publishing has the support of important people in government, Gevers said, and there is now a groundswell of interest in scholarly publishing. The research that was undertake by ASSAf is now beginning to provide the basis for something very important. Money has been made available by government to sustain the Editors’ Forum for an initial period. In the first
instance, journals that are recognised in the government classification system can apply to join the Forum and then after
that, other journals can apply. The Academy will keep in touch with members of the Forum by email and will bring to the attention of journal editors the progress that is being made and issues that are current – for example, if in the future, draft legislation such as the recent Draft Bill were published for comment, ASSAf could inform the Editors’ Forum, and could then speak to the Portfolio Committee on behalf of the Forum.

ASSAf could also use its mandate from the Forum to continue negotiations with the Department of Education about the accreditation of local journals and recognition for other publications. it is likely that the government will make things possible now that it might not have done if it did not think that the Academy was available to look after quality mechanisms. it could also, as proposed, set up a centralised journal management platform if journal editors so required.

In closing the meeting, it was agreed that a motion for support for the ASSAf proposals be circulated to all journals listed on the
ASSAf database for input and feedback in order to gauge the levels of support from journal editors for the proposals.