Tag Archives: OpeningScholarship

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.

Our new project – OpeningScholarship – launches at UCT

We have just posted the first blog for our new project. Funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation it will run for the next year in the Centre for Educational Technology at the University of Cape Town. The OpeningScholarship
project, with myself as the Strategic Project Director and Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams as Research Manager, will explore the transformative potential of information and communication technologies in the context of the University of Cape Town, selected for this project as one of South Africa’s leading research universities.

Through a series of case studies at UCT, the project will explore the ways in which new and interactive information and communication technologies are impacting on communication patterns between researchers, lecturers and students and between the university and the community. The project aims to identify ways in which
these new technologies can expand research and learning in the institution beyond the narrow walls of the curriculum to engage the university community with important cross-cutting issues and the convergence of traditional disciplines.

Some of the research questions that we will be asking are:

  • How can an institution such as UCT best build collaboration for scholarly communications across the institution?
  • What could an ICT system such as that at UCT offer in terms of new and opened up communications in teaching, learning and research?
  • How can the ICT systems that are in place help deliver much greater intellectual capacity, allowing the university (and by extension, the country) to rely on its own intellectual capital rather than on imported content?
  • What lessons can be learned from those departments making effective use of ICTs and new approaches to research dissemination?
  • How can existing projects – both departmental initiatives and donor-funded projects – be coordinated to achieve an effective and collaborative institution-wide scholarly communication system?
  • What policies and practices would need to be encouraged if the university is to achieve the maximum impact for its scholarly communications for research, teaching and learning, and outreach?

The intervention will aim to explore the potential of the full range of formal and informal communication strategies available to UCT in the 21st century, from formal scholarly publications to repositories, blogs, wikis, mobile technology, podcasts and video streaming.

We look forward to lively discussion in this blog, in wikis, meetings, workshops and seminars, about the changing dynamics being brought about at UCT through the use of ICTs for communications between researchers, between lecturers and students, and between the university and the communities it serves. It is going to be a lively year!