Tag Archives: Open Society Institute

Open the gates of learning! Open! The Cape Town Declaration is launched

The UCT campus is slowly coming to life as the summer season winds to a close and children head reluctantly back to school. To wake us up properly, the Cape Town Declaration on Open Education was officially launched today, appropriately at the start of the new school year.

The Cape Town Declaration was drafted by a meeting convened in Cape Town in September, bringing together a group of committed people from across the world at the offices of the Shuttleworth Foundation which convened the gathering along with the Open Society Institute. (For more on the process of drafting the Declaration, see my September blog).

To read and sign the Declaration, go to http://www.capetowndeclaration.org

Of particular relevance to us in the developing world is the fact that the Declaration articulates the development of open education resources as a matter of participation and not just of access, describing open education as a democratic collaborative environment with global participation. The opening passage reads:

We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. These educators are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.

The Declaration also stresses that Open Education is not a matter of content alone, but that this openness needs to encompass the collaborative potential offered by technology and should also include and understand the processes of education:

However, open education is not limited to just open educational resources. It also draws upon open technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues. It may also grow to include new approaches to assessment, accreditation and collaborative learning. Understanding and embracing innovations like these is critical to the long term vision of this movement.

This is explicitly acknoweldged in the Press Release:

“Open sourcing education doesn’t just make learning more accessible, it makes it more collaborative, flexible and locally relevant,” said Linux Entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth, who also recorded a video press briefing (http://capetowndeclaration.blip.tv/ ). “Linux is succeeding exactly because of this sort of adaptability. The same kind of success is possible for open education.”

Open education is of particular relevance in developing and emerging economies, creating the potential for affordable textbooks and learning materials. It opens the door to small scale, local content producers likely to create more diverse offerings than large multinational publishing houses.

“Cultural diversity and local knowledge are a critical part of open education,” said Eve Gray of the Centre for Educational Technology at the University of Cape Town. “Countries like South Africa need to start producing and sharing educational materials built on their own diverse cultural heritage. Open education promises to make this kind of diverse publishing possible.”

The Declaration has already been translated into over a dozen languages and the growing list of signatories includes: Jimmy Wales; Mark Shuttleworth; Peter Gabriel, musician and founder of Real World Studios; Sir John Daniel, President of Commonwealth of Learning; Thomas Alexander, former Director for Education at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; Paul N. Courant, University Librarian and former Provost, University of Michigan; Lawrence Lessig, founder and CEO of Creative Commons; Andrey Kortunov, President of the New Eurasia Foundation; and Yehuda Elkana, Rector of the Central European University. Organizations endorsing the Declaration include: Wikimedia Foundation; Public Library of Science; Commonwealth of Learning; Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition; Canonical Ltd.; Centre for Open and Sustainable Learning; Open Society Institute; and Shuttleworth Foundation.

Research Publication Policy in South Africa

I have now completed my year as an International Policy Fellow of the Open Society Institute (Budapest) and the Policy Paper resulting from the year’s investigation, Achieving Research Impact for Development: A Critique of Research Dissemination Policy in South Africa , is now available on my IPF website. I hope that this detailed evaluation of South African research policy and the recommendations for policy change will trigger debate among South African academics. Here is the Abstract, which outlines some of the paper’s findings:


This paper reviews the policy context for research publication in South Africa, using South Africa’s relatively privileged status as an African country and its elaborated research policy environment as a testing ground for what might be achieved – or what needs to be avoided – in other African countries. The policy review takes place
against the background of a global scholarly publishing system in which African knowledge is seriously marginalised and is poorly represented in global scholarly output. Scholarly publishing policies that drive the dissemination of African research into international journals that are not accessible in developing countries because of their high cost, effectively inhibit the ability of relevant research to impact on the overwhelming development challenges that face the continent.

In this study, South African research policy is tracked against the changing context provided by digital communication technologies and new dissemination models, particularly Open Access. These impact not only on publication but also on the way that research is carried out and they bring with them a growing recognition
of the value, particularly for developing countries, of non-market and non-proprietary production in delivering research impact. The paper thus pays particular attention to the potential for new technologies and new publishing models in helping to overcome the global knowledge divide and in offering solutions for what might at first sight appear to be intractable problems of under-resourcing and a lack of sustainability for African research publication.

The argument of the paper is that there is, in the formulation of research policy, a largely uncharted clash between South African national research and innovation policies focused on development and access on the one side, and the traditionally-accepted model of academic publishing on the other. The traditional publishing model has, as its core value, enhancement of the reputation of the individual scholar and his or her institution. In following this model, South Africa is typical: there is a signal failure of research policy to focus on the question of
the swift dissemination of research results, through Open Access publishing, especially to places where these results could have a useful impact – caused by a set of largely unexamined assumptions about academic publishing. It is in the developing world, and perhaps most markedly in Africa, that the negative effect of this
set of contradictions is demonstrated most clearly.

The paper charts a set of conflicting expectations of academic institutions and their values in research policies. On the one hand, the government has an expectation of social and development impact from the university in return for its investment in research funding. At the same time, there are increased pressures towards privatisation of the universities, with a decline in traditional financial support from the state and, linked to this,
pressure on the university to demonstrate results in the form of greater Intellectual Property Rights enclosure. Thus, while South African research and innovation policies stress the need for development impact, performance measures focus on patents or publication in internationally-indexed journals, effectively inhibiting the effective
dissemination of research and thus greatly retarding its potential development impact.

The paper makes recommendations at international, national and institutional levels for addressing this situation, arguing that Open Access and collaborative approaches could bring substantially increased impact for African research, with marked cost-benefit advantages.

The State of the Nation – South African scholarly publishing and the global knowledge divide

Down here in the southern hemisphere, the sun is shining and the south-easter is funnelling down the mountain. The 2007 university summer term has begun and absurdly young students are thronging campus; the President has delivered a carefully-modulated State of the Nation address; and the Finance Minister has spelled out a budget that shows South Africa
significantly in the black. In short, the real working year is only just beginning. So it is perhaps time, in a series of postings, to do
a my own State of the Nation overview of where South Africa stands at the start of 2007 in relation to my area of interest – the
dissemination and publication of African scholarship.

First, a background sketch. I hold an International Policy Fellowship from the Open Society Institute (Budapest) investigating policy for the dissemination of African scholarship. The project aims to map the complex and often contradictory policy environment that frames research publication in South Africa and other African countries. These policies tend to work in two directions: one for the leveraging of research to deliver national development goals – to which the South African government appears to be ready to allocate substantial resources – the other for the recognition and reward of scholarly publication. In particular, the project researches the question of whether countries like South
Africa and its African neighbours can start to turn around the global knowledge divide and raise the reach and visibility of African research using electronic media and the Open Access publishing approaches currently taking hold across the world.

If one looks at the current state of research publication in African countries, what stands out most strongly is the persistent marginalisation of African knowledge – particularly of scholarship about Africa, produced in Africa. Globally, research dissemination takes place within a system that has been in place for around the last 100 years, which has come to be dominated by increasingly
commercialised (and increasingly expensive) journals and by scholarly books produced primarily in the USA and Europe in a globally
unbalanced ‘publish or perish’ scholarly market. For example, to cite but one statistic – in 2000, South Africa, which far exceeds
any other African country in the ISI journal rankings, had just 0,5% of the articles in the combined ISI databases and 0.15% of the most
cited papers (see the SA Academy of Science Report on a Strategic Approach to Research Publishing in South Africa 2006) . Could we really say that this is a fair and accurate evaluation of the global weight and value of the research carried out in this country?

This publication takes place within a generally unquestioned value system in which quality is measured by publication impact in an international arena in which scholars and publishers from Africa are unequal players in the global research economy. For example, the leading international index in which journal publication is valued, the ISI, aims to index the limited range of journal literature that
asserts a disproportionate influence, on the assumption that a relatively small group of journals – or body of knowledge – will account for the most important and influential research in any field. The UK-based International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS), while it prides itself on listing a substantial percentage of journals from outside the UK, nevertheless values them (through an Editorial Board consisting overwhelmingly of UK academics and none at all from developing countries) according to their relevance to UK scholars and libraries. These criteria tend to marginalise research knowledge from the periphery, research that does not address the mainstream interests of scholarship in the US and Europe, and also work to disadvantage disciplines that have particular local relevance rather than more generalised global appeal.

Add to this the physical difficulties and the cost of distributing print materials from the developing world into dominant US and UK markets,
as well as the difficulty of getting these publications accepted by the major libraries, and it becomes clear that the very criteria that the developing world uses for its traditional-model scholarly output are those that contribute also to its marginalisation in the global arena. Even more damaging is the potential for the distortion of research agendas – if scholars are to receive promotion and financial reward for publications that conform to US and UK research agendas, then research topics that might contribute vitally to local development issues risk marginalisation. Moreover, there is a self-fulfilling prophecy, based on the assumption that overseas standards are better, in which local publications, perceived to be of poorer quality, do in fact often come to be of poorer quality, starved as they are of recognition, support and resources.

In tackling these problems, we are seriously handicapped by the fact that in the South African higher education system there is a tacit acceptance that scholarly publication is not the business of the universities – what Joseph J. Esposito in a recent article in LOGOS, calls ‘the
free-rider syndrome. A university… will actively encourage faculty to publish, but a press will be stinted because it is always possible
that a particular book will be published somewhere else.’ Also – and perhaps as a result of the free-rider syndrome, the policies and
practices governing scholarly publication have themselves not been subjected to much research or scrutiny. As a recent Australian government report observed: ‘Despite billions being spent by governments on R&D every year, relatively little policy attention
has yet been paid to the dissemination of that research through scientific and scholarly publishing.’

2007 might well be the year in which South Africa starts to pay more attention to these issues. On the international front, a number of initiatives are putting the issues on the front burner – the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) is in the process of creating an African Science and Innovation Facility; the World Bank has identified higher education as a key driver for African economic growth and poverty eradication; the funding agencies are taking an increasing interest in the potential for unlocking access to African knowledge through the use of ICTs and Open Access; and the steadily growing number of international initiatives for access to publicly funded research (the most recent being the EU meetings held last week). Locally, the Academy of Science of South Africa’s project on scholarly publishing is beginning to take shape, under the aegis of
the Department of Science and Technology (more on that in another posting), an increasing number of Open Access projects are beginning to emerge and the middle economy alliance of Brazil, India, China (and South Africa, tagging on behind) is beginning to impact. But a lot still needs to be done to get these debates a higher profile in the universities and in government.