Tag Archives: Scholarly Communications

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?’

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!

The economic impact of access to research – the Australians count the cost and benefits

The Department of Education in Australia has recently released a very important report on Research Communication Costs in Australia, in which John Houghton, Colin Steele and Peter Sheehan provide a cost and benefit analysis of existing and emerging alternatives for scholarly communications out of Australian institutions. An article in the Australian, blogged by Peter Suber (who originally drew my attention to this report), provides an incisive summary of the findings, for those who want a rapid overview.

The results of this survey are startling, both for the high (hidden) costs that it reveals universities are paying in the current system and the high level of financial benefits that the report calculates could accrue from more open and effective dissemination of research results.

This is a particularly valuable contribution, because, as the authors note in their opening comments, ‘despite billions of dollars being spent by governments on R&D each year, relatively little policy attention has yet been paid to the dissemination of the results of that research through scientific and scholarly publishing.’

We could learn from this in South Africa. All too often, when problems with the commercial, ‘subscriber pays’ model of journal publication are raised and Open Access is mentioned, the response is an anxious query about where funding would come from to pay for a more open publishing system. What this reveals is a presumption that research dissemination is not the business of universities, but is outsourced to commercial providers. What it also reveals is that the academic community does not realise that it is already paying for scholarly publication, albeit in ways that universities do not conventionally track.

The authors of the Australian report have calculated the cost of the various contributions that are made by higher education institutions to the publication of journal articles. Computing the time involved in the various contributions of authoring, peer review, and editorial activities undertaken by university staff in their quest to get published, they come up with hidden costs of AUD19,000.00 ($14,000.00) per journal article. A scholarly monograph they estimate at AUD155,100.00 ($115,000.00) The authors then go on to quantify the benefits of improved R&D access in Australia, developing formulas for measuring the financial impact of increased dissemination and concluding that there could be very substantial financial returns from a switch to open access scholarly publication. What they conclude is that, In Australia, with public sector R&D at AUD5,912 million and a 25% rate of social return to R&D, a 5% increase in access and efficiency would be worth AUD 150 million a year. It would be very interesting to run these calculations in South Africa, particularly for returns on the R2.5 billion that is spent on university research, given that we really do need the impact that our research can offer,

According to this study, there are also a number of other measurable benefits relating to the increased impact provided by Open Access.

Research costs, they argue, could be impacted by:

  • Speed of access …speeding up the research and discovery process, …and, potentially, reducing the time/cost involved for a given outcome, and increasing the rate of accumulation of the stock of knowledge;
  • Improved access leading to reduced duplicative research… and improving efficiency;
  • Faster access, leading to better informed research, reducing the pursuit of blind alleys, saving R&D expenditure and improving the efficiency of R&D ;
  • Wider access providing enhanced opportunities for multi-disciplinary research, inter-institutional and inter-sectoral collaborations;
  • Wider access enabling researchers to study their context more broadly, potentially leading to increased opportunities for and rates of application/commercialization;
  • Improved access leading to improved education outcomes, enabling a given education spend to produce a higher level of education attainment …..
  • Potential benefits for industry and government could be:
  • The potential for wider access to both accelerate and widen opportunities for adoption and commercialization, thereby increasing returns on public investment in R&D and private investment in commercialization…;
  • The potential for much wider access … for GPs/nurses, teachers/students, small firms in consulting, engineering, architecture, design, electronics, software, biotechnology… who currently have limited or no access, with a possible impact on quality of services and, possibly, productivity in those sector of the economy.
  • The possibility for the emergence of new industries based on the open access content … In turn these might enhance research evaluation and lead to better focused R&D expenditures.

The conclusion of the report is that ‘a move towards more open access may represent a substantial cost-benefit advantage’ . As Peter Suber says in a comment on his blog: ‘Taxpayers need to realize how much the return on their investment in research could be amplified by a transition to OA and how how much they are paying for every delay in that transition.’ It is clear that South Africa would benefit from playing catch-up by getting moving on Open Access policies.