Tag Archives: ASSAF

The state of the nation 2011 – government policy and open access in South Africa

The working year is just waking up in summer South Africa and I am to moderate the opening session on the topic of ‘A national perspective on A2K in South Africa’ at the Yale A2K Global Academy. This takes place at the UCT Graduate School of Business on 18 and 19 January and the session that I am moderating needs me to step back and and try to get a perspective on what this national perspective actually looks like.

When it comes to government policy and legislation, the trouble is that South Africa, as usual, does not present a coherent or unified picture, but rather embodies a number of contradictions. Perhaps I could borrow a wonderfully vivid description of the situation in the Caribbean in an Intellectual Property Watch article by Abiole Inniss on Fair Usage in the Caribbean, something that could well apply to South Africa:

A panoramic view of the IP situation in the Caribbean would present to the observer a carnival of Olympic size replete with politicians, diplomats, rights advocates, consumer groups, law enforcement, and impotent jurists, all gyrating discordantly to the WIPO band while Caribbean citizens look on, or are pulled or shoved in.

2010 has been dominated, from my perspective, by a negative force, the pending implementation, during 2011, of the IPR Act for Publicly Funded Research of 2008. While I would argue that the default position these days on publicly funded research is that it should, as far as possible, be publicly and freely available, this piece of legislation, a kind of Bayh-Dole Act on steroids, appears to regard the default as IP protection, with commercialisation through patenting as the most desired outcome. This legislation and its implementing Regulations do appear to recognise the need for research contributions that lead to social and non-commercial development. However, the default position of the implementation clauses in the Regulations is that permission has to be obtained from a national agency before any research that is capable of commercialisation and patenting can adopt open innovation or open source approaches. Continue reading

ASSAF scholarly publishing team visits SciELO in Brazil

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 Guèdon 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.

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
. Available at:
http://eprints.rclis.org/archive/00012156/ [Accessed August 3, 2008].

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 Academyof 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 Departmentof 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 Universityof 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 myblog 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 tobe 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.

A policy workshop on access to data

On 27 and 28 September, the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) convened a high-level two-day workshop on access to research data. The workshop was designed to address what South Africa’s response should be in relation to the OECD Declaration, Principles and Guidelines on Access to Research Data from Publicly Funded Research. A hint as to why this workshop was being convened now came from a press cutting included in the conference pack, reporting that South Africa is being considered as an additional member of the OECD, something that would be a major boost to the country if it were to come about. Another reason was mentioned by Owen Njamela, from the Chief Directorate, R&D Investments at the DST: that in the last few months the DST has announced a considerable increase in its strategic R&D targets for the next decade as a way of increasing the country’s international competitiveness. This means that the number of postgraduate degrees and the levels of research output will need to grow radically in the next decade. It was good to see these targets being linked to open approaches to knowledge and information sharing, in contrast to the restrictive and lock-down approach of the Draft Bill on IPR for Publicly Funded Research published for comment a few months ago (see my blog entry of 13 July 2007). What the workshop was after, Njamela said, was to establish what it would take to create a really effective data sharing system in South Africa.

Because I see this as an important event, I am going to blog in this post the key outcomes, decisions and forward planning that hat emerged from the workshop and then provide, here and on the OpeningScholarship project blog additional postings on the keynote speeches and the presentations from local speakers, as well as some South African case studies. Keynote speeches were by Paul Uhlir of the US National Academies of Science and CODATA, Bernard Minter, Chair of the World Data Centre System at ICSU and Professor of Geophysics at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, University of California San Diego and Beatriz Torres, Programme Officer from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

The key understanding that emerged from the workshop was that, although there are a number of legitimate limitations on openness when it comes to research data – such as official secrets, personal privacy and the proprietary rights of private sector research – the default option, as spelled out by the OECD Guidelines, should be for open access and restrictions should be the exception and not the rule, only invoked with good reason. This is particularly important when data has been developed from publicly funded research. While locking up data in proprietary systems increases the fragmentation and cost and can become a barrier to the conduct of science, the keynote speakers argued that open access makes data available for use across disciplines and countries, allows for automated knowledge discovery, improves the potential for verification and accuracy and facilitates North-South and South-South transfer.

There are strategic reasons for ensuring that research data is properly disseminated and curated in South Africa. As the ASSAf Report on Scholarly Publishing in South Africa made clear, South Africa needs to increase its research visibility, needs to grow its output of high-quality publications and attract a younger cohort of scholars. And, as the ASSAf programme grows the output of local journals, I argued tin my presentation that there need to be links between scholarly publications and underlying data sets if the maximum benefits are to be gained from research investment. Looking forward, the trends are towards greater interactivity between scientific journal articles and the underlying data, for collaboratories and virtual workspaces, for the additional layers of interpretation that can be offered by semantically-rich XML documents, and for automated analysis, abstraction and correlation of data. Open Access makes this much easier.

An important issue for South Africa is the need to retain and grow the numbers of young researchers. The current system of evaluating scholars through their output of journal articles and the citation impact of these articles provides a disincentive for researchers who have grown up in a digital world, who expect rapid results in a collaborative global community of scholars and who recognise the need for high-speed supercomputing to access and analyse the vast and growing amount of data now available. Some participants felt that policy-makers are limping behind the development of new research approaches and that South Africa needed to become more forward-looking in its research policies – in fact the keynote speakers challenged South Africa to leap the technology gap to take its place at the forefront of developments.

Action plan

At the end of the workshop, Owen Njamela from the Chief Directorate, R&D Investments in the DST proposed an action plan,
based on the recommendations of a series of presentations and workshop sessions. The Department would:

  • Explore the recommendation made by the workshop participants for an audit of skills, curricula, databases, and systems.

  • Draft a narrative report from the meeting into a draft policy document/ guidelines for data management, access and reuse.

  • Undertake internal departmental consultation to ensure awareness by all departments and the executive of the DST and to identify human capital.

  • Consultation with other departments – Director-General forums and research forums within government and in the industry cluster system. (There is a framework of bilateral cooperation with other departments, Njamela said and it is also important to include government departments with their own science councils, like Mintek in the Department of Mining.)

  • Consultation with universities/science councils (concurrent)

  • Presentation of a policy to Cabinet (June 2008, when the government considers policy priorities).

  • Funding considerations proposed to National Treasury

  • Implementation (2008 financial year). There might be institutions active ahead of
    that implementation.

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.