Tag Archives: South Africa

Promoting Education Rights In South African Copyright Reform

by Eve Gray and Desmond Oriakhogba – first published for Intellectual Property Watch under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)by Eve Gray and Desmond Oriakhogba – first published for Intellectual Property Watch under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

The publishing industry is making a mad dash to defeat South Africa’s adoption of a fair use rights in Parliament on Wednesday. Their latest effort includes an alarmist petition being circulated among authors.  It is interesting to note that, while one of the most persistent and loud complaints in these protests has been that the drafting of the new legislation was badly handled, our perception, along with a number of experienced observers in the process, has been that the level of discussion and debate; the degree of participation and engagement of government representatives; and the consensus on the needs to be addressed, was of a higher standard and the debate much better informed than in previous such attempts at reform over the past decades.  It should also be noted that, while it is true that international publishers might have much to lose in the new law, local publishers, authors and students have much to gain. It is time to lower the heat and concentrate on the facts and context of what is before Parliament.

As for the persistent complaints about the proposal to adopt a fair use regime, rather than persisting with Fair Dealing, it needs to be noted that in a digital age, this is increasingly becoming the default position internationally, as digital media demand flexibility and openness to new developments.

Copying for education in South Africa

The core of the criticism being mounted by international publishers and their local affiliates is that South Africa – the most unequal country in the world – should not broaden the education rights for teachers and students. To assess this claim, one needs to know about both the proposed change in law and the current practices in South Africa.

Since its enactment in the 1970s, South Africa’s copyright law has always had strong rights to use copyrighted materials for education and study purposes. The education rights in the current law state:

12(4) (4) The copyright in a literary or musical work shall not be infringed by using such work, to the extent justified by the purpose, by way of illustration in any publication, broadcast or sound or visual record for teaching: Provided that such use shall be compatible with fair practice and that the source shall be mentioned, as well as the name of the author if it appears on the work.

In addition to this right of educators, learners have a separate right to make private copies to facilitate their learning by virtue of the existing “fair dealing” right:

(1) Copyright shall not be infringed by any fair dealing with a literary or musical work-

(a) for the purposes of research or private study by, or the personal or private use of, the person using the work;

Throughout Apartheid these provisions were used liberally to make copies of excerpts, and often whole books, to facilitate education in South Africa. With growing frequency in the 1970s and 80s, the construction of coursepacks and the copying of foreign books not available in South Africa were made as a “set of practical workarounds against censorship, the boycott, high costs, and inadequate distribution systems” (Gray and Czerniewicz 2018 https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/shadow-libraries ). In the more radical universities, these coursepacks also served to provide access to research content that challenged the apartheid regime, offering a different vision to the formally published textbooks.

In the new South Africa, these practices continued, with universities regularly supplying coursepacks of copied excerpts without licensing them from any copyright holder. Things began changing with an aggressive campaign by rights holders in the 2000s.

After apartheid, the primary policy goal of the publishing industry was a collective licensing agreement that would establish a flat fee for all photocopying in the universities. This process was undertaken by the DALRO—the Dramatic and Literary Rights Organization. As before, the negotiations were turbulent. DALRO threatened massive penalties for university departments that had embraced coursepack copying during the academic boycott. Protests erupted across the university sector, especially from the black rural universities that in many cases still stocked libraries with photocopied books and journal articles. Nonetheless, strong government support and EU funding granted to the poorer universities as an inducement produced agreement in 1997–1998. The blanket licensing agreement was fully implemented by 2004–2005 (Gray and Czerniewicz 2018, 133).

The DALRO blanket license gives authorization, in exchange for a per pupil fee, for the creation of multiple copies of articles for coursepacks, placement on the library short-term loan system, and storage on electronic reserves (Gray and Czerniewicz 2018, 133). It authorizes, in other words, what universities were largely doing without payment until then, raising educational costs to schools and students.

Access to education materials in the new South Africa continues to be incredibly limited, largely because of the cost of materials. Gray and Czerniewicz recount:

  • Over 40 percent of households headed by black South Africans have annual incomes under R33,000 for a family of five, while text book costs frequently exceed R6,000 a year. An imported textbook could therefore retail at a price that cost as much as some months of food for a family in the lowest percentile of the population.
  • Bursaries for books for university students only cover a fraction of the cost of books — commonly between R1,000 and R2,000 per semester.
  • Publishers, recognizing that all students do not purchase all the prescribed books, often stock for as few as 35 percent of students in a course.

70 percent of higher education students obtain the majority of their materials through informal digital sharing networks with other students. The students participating in these networks, the research made clear, were not ‘pirates’, but rather students concerned to succeed in their education but faced with severe economic and practical constraints. One student, asked about whether he had any fears about illegal downloading, answered: “No, worried about graduating.”

According to research by Juta Publishers, “a main cause of student underachievement is failure to buy textbooks.” And the underachievement in South Africa is marked. Just 25 percent of face-to-face university students, and 15 percent of distance education students, graduate on time.

The new education right

It is in this context that the Department of Trade and Industry was faced, in its drafting of a new Copyright Act, with deciding whether and how to change the existing rights of teachers and students to make use of copyrighted works for educational purposes. The changes being introduced are modest compared to the acuteness of the need.

The Bill makes a just and reasonable effort to clarify the degree to which teachers and students can lawfully make copies of excerpts to facilitate education. The practices the bill permits are more restricted than those routinely followed under Apartheid, and more liberal than are practiced at some universities that license all copying. It will usher in very little change in most primary schools where text book purchases supplemented by limited copies of excerpts of other works is the norm.

Section 12D of the Bill provides:

“a person may make copies of works or recordings of works, including broadcasts, for the purposes of educational and academic activities” as long as the “copying does not exceed the extent justified by the purpose.”

This part of the law appears to usher in no change from the existing standard, other than to clarify that it applies to all works (including, e.g., an audio-visual work).

The new aspects proposed in the Bill provide more specificity as to what educators can do in sharing materials with students, the most important of which is the explicit permission to create course packs of excerpts:

Educational institutions may incorporate excerpts of works, “to the extent justified by the purpose,” “in printed and electronic course packs, study packs, resource lists and in any other material to be used in a course of instruction or in virtual learning environments, managed learning environments, virtual research environments or library environments hosted on a secure network and accessible only by the persons giving and receiving instruction at or from the educational establishment making such copies.”

Copyright Amendment Bill Section 12D(2)

The law specifically provides that course packs or other forms of copying may not “incorporate the whole or substantially the whole of a book or journal issue, or a recording of a work” under normal circumstances. (12D(2)). It authorizes copying of full works only if “a licence to do so is not available from the copyright owner, collecting society, an indigenous community or the National Trust on reasonable terms and conditions”; “where the textbook is out of print”; “where the owner of the right cannot be found”; or where the right holder is engaged in anticompetitive conduct in the form of excessive pricing. (Copyright Amendment Bill Section 12D(3)-(4). In each case, no copying is permitted for commercial gain, (12D(5)), and the copying must be restricted to the “extent justified by the purpose.”

Supporting schools, students and local publishers and authors

The proposed new law does not ban the DALRO blanket license. But it will pressure DALRO to offer more in the license than the law makes clear can already be provided for free. Most importantly, the DALRO license, or an individual site or specific work license, may be useful to schools that seek to copy whole or substantial parts of works, especially high priced foreign works in subjects for which there is little South African production. It will liberate schools from paying fees for mere extracts, and will strengthen the hands of schools in negotiating prices for licenses with DALRO. All of this should enable educational resource budgets to stretch further and toward more uses of local produced works.

The new law should be in the interests of local, as opposed to foreign, publishers and authors. Latest publically available figures [pdf] show that DALRO collected R48 million as royalties from reprographic reproduction licenses. Collection from tertiary institutions accounted for a substantial part (R38 million) of the royalties. Currently the majority of licensing revenue goes to foreign publishers and authors. This is confirmed by the fact that the list of academic publishers represented by DALRO is mainly local subsidiaries of foreign publishers. The forgoing is further confirmed by an earlier report of the Copyright Review Commission as follows:

“in the 2010 calendar year, the total amount collected from licensing was around $4 million (R28,582,389) and the total amount distributed was $3 million (R21,601,415), of which $1.2 million (R9,477,661) was distributed to local rights holders. The low returns to domestic rights holders, moreover, have led to criticism that the system favors international publishers: most of the licensing revenue sent to DALRO leaves the country” (Gray and Czerniewicz 2018, 134, quoting Copyright Review Commission).

The converse is true with book purchasing, especially in the large market for school books. When budgets are spent on books, instead of licensing, the majority goes to local publishers and authors (PASA 2013, reporting that 60 percent of text books used in South African schools are locally produced). Thus, a policy to reorient resources toward local interests should seek to reduce licensing costs of education to make room for local book purchases, which the law does.

When Canada recently expanded its fair dealing rights to include educational purposes, the general trend was for schools and universities to shift from blanket licenses that required fees for copies of small excerpts toward a mix of site licenses for specific uses and works and an increase in book purchasing, with particular benefits to local Canadian publishers (Geist 2018, http://www.michaelgeist.ca/2018/05/copyrightfairdealingeducationpartone/). If the same occurs in South Africa, local authors and local publishers stand to gain.

Finally, the new law may help promote the use of so-called open educational resources. These are materials developed under a different model – where authors are paid up front for their work and the product is made freely available without copyright restrictions – permitting students and teachers to change and adapt the works freely. The recent announcement of the Digital Open Textbooks for Development at UCT, with substantial grants on offer for their production is just one example of a radically changing university textbook environment.

One barrier to the use of open educational resources can be legal ambiguity around the extent to which such texts can include excerpts of other works. The new educational right combined with the proposed adoption of a fair use model will make clear that open educational resources producers have a green light to produce the best possible materials. These provisions are in line with the Department of Education’s 2013 policy documents calling for more locally relevant materials and wider use of open educational resources and open licensing to address the chronic dilemmas of high cost and poor access (DHET 2013, 54–60; Gray and Czerniewicz 108, 142-3).

At its foundation, the Copyright Amendment Bill takes appropriate incremental steps to clarify the educational rights of teachers and every student. It should benefit, not harm, local publishers. It deserves all of our praise.

The publishing industry is making a mad dash to defeat South Africa’s adoption of a fair use rights in Parliament on Wednesday. Their latest effort includes an alarmist petition being circulated among authors.  It is interesting to note that, while one of the most persistent and loud complaints in these protests has been that the drafting of the new legislation was badly handled, our perception, along with a number of experienced observers in the process, has been that the level of discussion and debate; the degree of participation and engagement of government representatives; and the consensus on the needs to be addressed, was of a higher standard and the debate much better informed than in previous such attempts at reform over the past decades.  It should also be noted that, while it is true that international publishers might have much to lose in the new law, local publishers, authors and students have much to gain. It is time to lower the heat and concentrate on the facts and context of what is before Parliament.

As for the persistent complaints about the proposal to adopt a fair use regime, rather than persisting with Fair Dealing, it needs to be noted that in a digital age, this is increasingly becoming the default position internationally, as digital media demand flexibility and openness to new developments.

Copying for education in South Africa

The core of the criticism being mounted by international publishers and their local affiliates is that South Africa – the most unequal country in the world – should not broaden the education rights for teachers and students. To assess this claim, one needs to know about both the proposed change in law and the current practices in South Africa.

Since its enactment in the 1970s, South Africa’s copyright law has always had strong rights to use copyrighted materials for education and study purposes. The education rights in the current law state:

12(4) (4) The copyright in a literary or musical work shall not be infringed by using such work, to the extent justified by the purpose, by way of illustration in any publication, broadcast or sound or visual record for teaching: Provided that such use shall be compatible with fair practice and that the source shall be mentioned, as well as the name of the author if it appears on the work.

In addition to this right of educators, learners have a separate right to make private copies to facilitate their learning by virtue of the existing “fair dealing” right:

(1) Copyright shall not be infringed by any fair dealing with a literary or musical work-

(a) for the purposes of research or private study by, or the personal or private use of, the person using the work;

Throughout Apartheid these provisions were used liberally to make copies of excerpts, and often whole books, to facilitate education in South Africa. With growing frequency in the 1970s and 80s, the construction of coursepacks and the copying of foreign books not available in South Africa were made as a “set of practical workarounds against censorship, the boycott, high costs, and inadequate distribution systems” (Gray and Czerniewicz 2018 https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/shadow-libraries ). In the more radical universities, these coursepacks also served to provide access to research content that challenged the apartheid regime, offering a different vision to the formally published textbooks.

In the new South Africa, these practices continued, with universities regularly supplying coursepacks of copied excerpts without licensing them from any copyright holder. Things began changing with an aggressive campaign by rights holders in the 2000s.

After apartheid, the primary policy goal of the publishing industry was a collective licensing agreement that would establish a flat fee for all photocopying in the universities. This process was undertaken by the DALRO—the Dramatic and Literary Rights Organization. As before, the negotiations were turbulent. DALRO threatened massive penalties for university departments that had embraced coursepack copying during the academic boycott. Protests erupted across the university sector, especially from the black rural universities that in many cases still stocked libraries with photocopied books and journal articles. Nonetheless, strong government support and EU funding granted to the poorer universities as an inducement produced agreement in 1997–1998. The blanket licensing agreement was fully implemented by 2004–2005 (Gray and Czerniewicz 2018, 133).

The DALRO blanket license gives authorization, in exchange for a per pupil fee, for the creation of multiple copies of articles for coursepacks, placement on the library short-term loan system, and storage on electronic reserves (Gray and Czerniewicz 2018, 133). It authorizes, in other words, what universities were largely doing without payment until then, raising educational costs to schools and students.

Access to education materials in the new South Africa continues to be incredibly limited, largely because of the cost of materials. Gray and Czerniewicz recount:

  • Over 40 percent of households headed by black South Africans have annual incomes under R33,000 for a family of five, while text book costs frequently exceed R6,000 a year. An imported textbook could therefore retail at a price that cost as much as some months of food for a family in the lowest percentile of the population.
  • Bursaries for books for university students only cover a fraction of the cost of books — commonly between R1,000 and R2,000 per semester.
  • Publishers, recognizing that all students do not purchase all the prescribed books, often stock for as few as 35 percent of students in a course.

70 percent of higher education students obtain the majority of their materials through informal digital sharing networks with other students. The students participating in these networks, the research made clear, were not ‘pirates’, but rather students concerned to succeed in their education but faced with severe economic and practical constraints. One student, asked about whether he had any fears about illegal downloading, answered: “No, worried about graduating.”

According to research by Juta Publishers, “a main cause of student underachievement is failure to buy textbooks.” And the underachievement in South Africa is marked. Just 25 percent of face-to-face university students, and 15 percent of distance education students, graduate on time.

The new education right

It is in this context that the Department of Trade and Industry was faced, in its drafting of a new Copyright Act, with deciding whether and how to change the existing rights of teachers and students to make use of copyrighted works for educational purposes. The changes being introduced are modest compared to the acuteness of the need.

The Bill makes a just and reasonable effort to clarify the degree to which teachers and students can lawfully make copies of excerpts to facilitate education. The practices the bill permits are more restricted than those routinely followed under Apartheid, and more liberal than are practiced at some universities that license all copying. It will usher in very little change in most primary schools where text book purchases supplemented by limited copies of excerpts of other works is the norm.

Section 12D of the Bill provides:

“a person may make copies of works or recordings of works, including broadcasts, for the purposes of educational and academic activities” as long as the “copying does not exceed the extent justified by the purpose.”

This part of the law appears to usher in no change from the existing standard, other than to clarify that it applies to all works (including, e.g., an audio-visual work).

The new aspects proposed in the Bill provide more specificity as to what educators can do in sharing materials with students, the most important of which is the explicit permission to create course packs of excerpts:

Educational institutions may incorporate excerpts of works, “to the extent justified by the purpose,” “in printed and electronic course packs, study packs, resource lists and in any other material to be used in a course of instruction or in virtual learning environments, managed learning environments, virtual research environments or library environments hosted on a secure network and accessible only by the persons giving and receiving instruction at or from the educational establishment making such copies.”

Copyright Amendment Bill Section 12D(2)

The law specifically provides that course packs or other forms of copying may not “incorporate the whole or substantially the whole of a book or journal issue, or a recording of a work” under normal circumstances. (12D(2)). It authorizes copying of full works only if “a licence to do so is not available from the copyright owner, collecting society, an indigenous community or the National Trust on reasonable terms and conditions”; “where the textbook is out of print”; “where the owner of the right cannot be found”; or where the right holder is engaged in anticompetitive conduct in the form of excessive pricing. (Copyright Amendment Bill Section 12D(3)-(4). In each case, no copying is permitted for commercial gain, (12D(5)), and the copying must be restricted to the “extent justified by the purpose.”

Supporting schools, students and local publishers and authors

The proposed new law does not ban the DALRO blanket license. But it will pressure DALRO to offer more in the license than the law makes clear can already be provided for free. Most importantly, the DALRO license, or an individual site or specific work license, may be useful to schools that seek to copy whole or substantial parts of works, especially high priced foreign works in subjects for which there is little South African production. It will liberate schools from paying fees for mere extracts, and will strengthen the hands of schools in negotiating prices for licenses with DALRO. All of this should enable educational resource budgets to stretch further and toward more uses of local produced works.

The new law should be in the interests of local, as opposed to foreign, publishers and authors. Latest publically available figures [pdf] show that DALRO collected R48 million as royalties from reprographic reproduction licenses. Collection from tertiary institutions accounted for a substantial part (R38 million) of the royalties. Currently the majority of licensing revenue goes to foreign publishers and authors. This is confirmed by the fact that the list of academic publishers represented by DALRO is mainly local subsidiaries of foreign publishers. The forgoing is further confirmed by an earlier report of the Copyright Review Commission as follows:

“in the 2010 calendar year, the total amount collected from licensing was around $4 million (R28,582,389) and the total amount distributed was $3 million (R21,601,415), of which $1.2 million (R9,477,661) was distributed to local rights holders. The low returns to domestic rights holders, moreover, have led to criticism that the system favors international publishers: most of the licensing revenue sent to DALRO leaves the country” (Gray and Czerniewicz 2018, 134, quoting Copyright Review Commission).

The converse is true with book purchasing, especially in the large market for school books. When budgets are spent on books, instead of licensing, the majority goes to local publishers and authors (PASA 2013, reporting that 60 percent of text books used in South African schools are locally produced). Thus, a policy to reorient resources toward local interests should seek to reduce licensing costs of education to make room for local book purchases, which the law does.

When Canada recently expanded its fair dealing rights to include educational purposes, the general trend was for schools and universities to shift from blanket licenses that required fees for copies of small excerpts toward a mix of site licenses for specific uses and works and an increase in book purchasing, with particular benefits to local Canadian publishers (Geist 2018, http://www.michaelgeist.ca/2018/05/copyrightfairdealingeducationpartone/). If the same occurs in South Africa, local authors and local publishers stand to gain.

Finally, the new law may help promote the use of so-called open educational resources. These are materials developed under a different model – where authors are paid up front for their work and the product is made freely available without copyright restrictions – permitting students and teachers to change and adapt the works freely. The recent announcement of the Digital Open Textbooks for Development at UCT, with substantial grants on offer for their production is just one example of a radically changing university textbook environment.

One barrier to the use of open educational resources can be legal ambiguity around the extent to which such texts can include excerpts of other works. The new educational right combined with the proposed adoption of a fair use model will make clear that open educational resources producers have a green light to produce the best possible materials. These provisions are in line with the Department of Education’s 2013 policy documents calling for more locally relevant materials and wider use of open educational resources and open licensing to address the chronic dilemmas of high cost and poor access (DHET 2013, 54–60; Gray and Czerniewicz 108, 142-3).

At its foundation, the Copyright Amendment Bill takes appropriate incremental steps to clarify the educational rights of teachers and every student. It should benefit, not harm, local publishers. It deserves all of our praise.

Fast-tracking OER policy and practice in South Africa – Unisa on the move

10172701_10153986781275257_146907157_nThe question of open access to research, teaching and learning resources in South Africa has for a long time been a somewhat paradoxical space in national and institutional policy. There has appeared to be sympathy for open access and OERs, and some government support evidenced, for example, in the Academy of Science’s partnership with SciELO for the creation of a national platform for OA journals, SciELO South Africa. At an institutional level, the number of OA institutional repositories has been growing, the University of Stellenbosch has added the creation of a lively and ambitious open journal publishing programme, and the country’s leading research university, the University of Cape Town in its Open Content Directory now takes a wide-ranging approach to the research and teaching and learning resources it hosts. What there has not been up until now is a coherent national policy framework with in-principle support for open content produced through public funds.

It is now in OER rather than OA that the question of openness has at last been mainstreamed. In an earlier post, I wrote more than two years ago, I reported on the  in the Department of Basic Education’s support for for OER learning support materials in schools and the suggestion in the Department of Higher Education and Training’s Green Paper, that it would support OER in distance and open learning. The schools initiative, with Siyavula, was a great success, with millions of textbooks printed for distribution as supplementary materials to students in grade 10 in government schools, with the text available on an open licence online and a very successful online collaboration space for teachers and learners. Since 2011, the development of open Siyavula science and mathematics has continued, with further open textbooks now available for grades 4 to 10.

Now OER in higher education appears to be moving towards implementation. In its recently-published White Paper on Post-School Education and Training, the national department for Higher Education and Training has announced that there will be support and funding for the collaborative creation of open learning resources to be used across institutions. There is also provision for the creation of a comprehensive licensing framework for open resources within an overall IP policy framework for higher education and training. There is also support for open source software.

It now looks as if these policy ideas might be fast-tracked, ahead of national policy development, by one of the country’s biggest and perhaps most powerful institutions. Last week the distance institution, the University of South Africa (UNISA) hit the twittersphere with the announcement of a comprehensive new OER strategy. While it might seem that yet another university committing to OER is of passing interest, in this case, this policy has to be taken seriously as a potentially path-breaking move that is likely to have considerable impact beyond the confines of distance education alone.

One reason is simply the size of the institution. With 329,000 students out of a total national cohort of  938,000, according to 2011 figures, it is bigger than the Open University in the UK, is probably the largest HE institution in Africa and enrolls around 35% of all the higher education students in South Africa. It is also the longest-standing distance university in the world, and one that provided higher education opportunities to the political prisoners on Robben Island and many other Black South Africans in the apartheid years, in spite of its institutional conservatism and alignment with the apartheid government. So to have a transformed UNISA in a democratic South Africa committing to a comprehensive plan for OER – and an avowedly Afrocentric version of open learning – is an important move that will resonate well beyond the institution.

In its strategy document, which lays out a comprehensive and well thought through implementation plan, UNISA aligns its OER ambitions with the proposed government policy and sees itself as a front-runner in getting implementation going:

Although the White Paper on Post-School Education and Training states that the DHET will “develop an appropriate open licensing framework for use by all education stakeholders, within an overarching policy framework on intellectual property rights and copyright in the post-school sector”, Unisa cannot wait for this to be developed but should rather engage with developing a licensing framework and contribute the work towards the development of a national policy.

 The aim is not to produce OER resources on their own, but to shift from producing all their own teaching materials to ‘harnessing, contextualising and integrating what already exists where feasible and educationally appropriate.’

In describing this initiative, some important themes emerge in the strategy document. One is top-level support: the Pro-Vice-Chancellor’s name heads the list of participants in strategy development and the word is that he is an active supporter. Another is comprehensive planning. This new strategy is more than simply a statement of intent, but is underpinned by a set of guiding principles and strategic priorities that demonstrate cohesive thinking about capacity and institutional planning needs. It is pleasing to note the emphasis that is placed on the support that must be provided to students using the open resources.

At the heart of the guiding principles of the new OER strategy is the recognition of UNISA’s place on the African continent. Although statements of Afrocentrism in South African universities can be gestures towards political correctness, this one seems well grounded. It is not just that UNISA will address ‘African thoughts, philosophy, interests…’ but that the institution aims, through a focus on African ideas, to leverage its networks and infrastructure to address ‘the neglected and marginalized issues relevant to South Africa and the rest of Africa’.  Positioning UNISA in this regard – as the institution is capable of doing, given its size – it aims to address the imbalances in the global scholarly landscape, by ‘making African scholarship an authentic part of the global knowledge enterprise’, through making African voices widely and openly accessible.

This is particularly important, as the current global focus in the Open Access movement, for example, with its journal-centredness and its continuing insistence on the importance of impact, has not yet reversed the marginalization of African knowledge in global evaluations of research production and impact. As an open learning institution, Unisa’s use of OER falls in behind the inclusiveness and values of social justice that an institution like UNISA – and the Open University – espouse in their creation of educational opportunity for those who are otherwise excluded from higher education opportunity and advancement.

This could, of course, all be hot air, but the thoroughness of the engagement of this document with the details of what would be needed for success and its strategic awareness of the benefits that could arise, as well as solid support within the institution suggest that there is a good chance of success here. Like the Open University, UNISA sees considerable marketing benefits accruing from its own production of high-quality and relevant teaching and learning materials and the efficiencies and advantages for students inherent in harnessing content available from OER resources from elsewhere.

So the new business model includes ‘systematic integration and adaptation of open content produced outside Unisa into new course environments where there is no print constraint’, linked with new models of accreditation and sharing content as OER as a marketing tool to attract students researching higher education options.

In discussing licensing, interestingly, a SWOT analysis identifies as a threat the ease, in a digital environment, of people’s ability to copy and use Unisa’s resources. The proposed approach to fielding this threat of ‘piracy’ is to move to an open licensing regime, but also to build Unisa’s strength in student support and effective assessment. This looks like a strategic response to MOOCs, too – the value is perceived to be not in ownership of the content, but, particularly acutely in Africa, in providing scaffolding and support to students and creating an interactive environment where these dialogues can happen.

So things seem to be moving in South African OER. Something that interests me in particular, though, is an ancillary issue that might be missed by anyone not familiar with the publishing industry and that is how this Unisa strategy is going to impact on textbook use and thus on the textbook industry. A bigger question lies behind this, one that the more forward-looking publishers are engaging with right now; what exactly is a textbook in an integrated digital environment where even face-to-face courses are supported by extensive online environments? A textbook, after all, is a scarcity product: with not enough lecturer time to teach everything, the core of a discipline is made available in a single publication, with illustrations and case studies. Is this really needed now, in the form in which it currently exists? And could textbook material more usefully be integrated into the institutional LMS? Or provided on an online platform and customised to the course concerned?

At the annual international publishers’ meetings in mid-2008, UNISA was reported – to the concern of publishers – to be planning a move to a supply model that would consolidate the delivery of learning materials in UNISA’s own courseware packs, changing and potentially reducing its reliance on textbooks. Given the dominant position of UNISA in the local textbook market, this seen as a move likely to have a decisive impact on the availability of open resources, or on the price and range of university textbooks, depending on the directions it would take.  Currently some industry players are concerned that Unisa appears to be discouraging the prescription of textbooks in first year classes.

Because of its disproportionate size in the SA HE sector, something as big as its shift to OER and to more comprehensive provision of course materials to its students is surely going to accelerate changes in textbook publishing in South Africa. After all, with 35% of the country’s students in this one institution, it would be naive to underestimate the pull that the institution has had, over many years, for local publishers eager to corner large classes and garner good sales. This was especially the case if the publisher was able to offer a direct sale deal, so that every student in a class got a book, given that the sell-through rate in bookshops has traditionally been about 35% of students in a class.

By the end of apartheid, a tradition had developed among South African publishers of head-hunting UNISA lecturers with big classes  and offering higher than average royalties in return for a secure market (especially if the lecturer would set class tests and exams in such a way that the students had to have the book). This potentially had an impact on quality issues, if authors in this context were selected not for their academic/pedagogical excellence or their writing skills, but for the size of their classes (Gray, 2001).

Given the importance of Unisa to this sector, it is worthwhile speculating on what changes might be brought about by developments at Unisa in the coming years. Unisa provides its students with course materials that are produced by its own (large) course publication unit. Textbooks – local and imported – are often prescribed to accompany course materials and these are sometimes provided to students with their course materials, but more often purchased by students from bookshops. In a distance education institution as big as Unisa, with its students spread to the remotest areas, the logistical challenges of getting course materials and textbooks to all its students are formidable. Discussions of the potential of the internet to solve many, it not all, of these problems have been a matter of debate at Unisa for the last few decades – ever since the early days of the internet, which coincided with the early days of a democratic South Africa.

Now that this vision can be delivered, there is the promise of the availability of OER resources from across the world to supplement what Unisa lecturers produce themselves, leaving the institution to focus more strongly on learning support. As the strategy document puts it:

Unisa can benefit by shifting from authoring and producing all its own materials to harnessing, contextualising and integrating what already exists where feasible and educationally appropriate. This combination of access and exposure to high-quality learning materials will create an environment where richer teaching and learning can take place.

A big question is the role that will be played by commercial publishers. Will they simply be marginalized or put out of business by the availability of OER, or will their skills be harnessed in different ways? Are open/commercial partnerships going to offer advantages? Already the trend emerging among the big international publishing companies is the purchase of online learning environments, so that their strategic focus starts to move from ownership of content to ownership of the technology, the delivery vehicle and the learning process. Wiley, McGraw Hill and especially, Pearson are already moving in this direction. This new environment offers the opportunity for content to be disaggregated, customized and localized, something that South African lecturers have been asking for, for a long time.

Or, as some commentators suggest, is this simply going to be a matter of selecting the best OER resources available and cutting out commercial products altogether?

This is going to be an interesting space to watch.

 

Eve Gray (2001)Academic Publishing in South Africa, in The Politics of Publishing in South Africa, edited by Monica Seeber and Nicholas Evans, Holger Ehling Publishers and University of Natal Press.

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

 

Open Everything at UCT Open Education Week

The first global Open Education Week took place from 5-10 March.  One of the questions that I found myself asking when I was asked to participate in some of the UCT events was ‘What is open education?’  Is it the use of  OER – putting course materials online – or something broader? The answers that emerged from panelists at the University of Cape Town moved well beyond the narrower frame of courseware to a challenging and interesting discussion of the interconnectedness of communications for the university’s different missions in a rapidly evolving digital environment.

This is in line with the Open Education Week’s aims:

Open education is about sharing, reducing barriers and increasing access in education. It includes free and open access to platforms, tools and resources in education (such as learning materials, course materials, videos of lectures, assessment tools, research, study groups, textbooks, etc.). Open education seeks to create a world in which the desire to learn is fully met by the opportunity to do so, where everyone, everywhere is able to access affordable, educationally and culturally appropriate opportunities to gain whatever knowledge or training they desire.

At UCT, the key event was an afternoon-long Western Cape-based panel discussion on Tuesday 6 March involving speakers from UCT, the University of the Western Cape and Stellenbosch University.  A gratifying number of people attended, filling the seminar room on what was a mid-term working afternoon. My impression was that ‘open everything’ is a much more mainstream cause that has been the case in the past and is attracting wider attention than before.  Of course, attitudes to open approaches havereceived a boost in South Africa with the Department of Higher Education’s adoption of OER policies in its new Green Paper, as I wrote in a recent blog and the Department of Basic Education’s adoption of OER resources in schools.

Dr Max Price

Dr Max Price

The UCT Vice-Chancellor, Dr Max Price, opened the panel discussion. This was significant in itself – a Vice-Chancellor lending support to an open education event. Commenting on the mainstreaming of OER policy internationally, Price identified the challenges facing wider open education practices as not only technical, but residing principally in the attitudes of staff. There are a number of fears that have to be dealt with, he argued – IP issues, fear of loss of control, of the work required. Very usefully, Price suggested the need for the creation of incentives, a citation system for OERs and career credit awarded to participating academics.

It was good to hear such a direct message of support from the leader of a university that I have long seen as ambivalent about these issues, but which is now clearly moving steadily towards a more comprehensive institution-wide open agenda.

The panelist’s presentations revealed different approaches in the participating institutions, with Stellenbosch standing out for the strength of the open access programme it is able to implement as a result of top-level logistical and financial support. From UCT, a narrative emerged of longstanding commitment to open dissemination by individual academics and departments, often going back decades. There was also a lively introduction to citizen science initiatives taking place at UCT. There is also a sophisticated understanding of an understanding of what is now an integrated research communication. From UWC also, insight into a long tradition of open source, open education and open access and the increased capacity that this brings.

The two chief challenges appear to be the question of institutional buy-in and top-level championing, and the challenge now being posed to a silo approach to the three university missions of research, teaching and learning and community engagement.

Michelle Willmers

This emerged clearly in the presentation by Laura Czerniewicz from the Open UCT Initiative and Michelle Willmers from the Scholarly Communication in Africa project, also at UCT. They presented a dynamic vision of developments in the ways in which research is now communicated. There is a shift from from a linear model of research publication as the end point and terminus of a research programme to a dynamic networked research environment in which communication takes place at every stage of the research cycle and the distinction between different outputs is diminished. The boundaries are blurring between research outputs as formal publications, research reports and other ‘grey literature’; enhanced publications such as  ‘translations’ for policy purposes or community impact; and teaching and learning resources. This also allows for the development of alternative metrics for valuing research contributions.

Dr Marion Jacobs, Dean of the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences, spoke, from her perspective as the Dean of a world-leading medical faculty, of a strong political and context-driven Afrocentric approach to communications in health studies. This involves recognition of excellence in research publication alongside commitment to meeting the needs of the SA health system in which access to health services is of primary importance. She provided examples of a number of online resources that contribute to public health care, ensured effective communications between health workers and patients in a multilingual country, and ensured the production of students fit for purpose in the South African context.

 Ed Rybicki , an A-rated virologist at UCT, confirmed an unacknowledged tradition – that there are a number of academics at UCT and other SA universities with a long record of putting research and teaching resources online for free access. Ed said that Africa produces just 0.7%v of global research, 66% of that from South Africa. We need to share it, he insisted. Ed says everything that he produces is and has long been open. He described a productive relationship with an Australian illustrator combining free and commercial provision of high quality scientific illustrations and the value of new developments like Apple’s iTextbook formatting tools.  The advantages that have accrued have been wide global takeup of open resources and the immediacy of web exposure of new developments.

Dr Reg Raju

Dr Reggie Raju, the Director of Library IT and Communication at Stellenbosch University  (SUN) described the impact of institutional support at Stellenbosch in creating a shared research space. The goal is to create a research footprint for the university, through an institutional repository, Sun Scholar , now ranked 165 out of 1,200  repositories internationally, and through an investment that has allowed the creation of a suite of online journals published by SUN and hosted on an OJS platform. The results of this programme, instituted in 2011 have been immediate, with rapid and substantial increases in journal readership and impact and growth in international submissions to the journals.

Mark Horner, of Siyavula told a story of a fairly common occurrence – a public interest project that emerges from a university but finds its space for expansion outside the walls of the institution, in Mark’s case with the Shuttleworth Foundation. A programme for open access science textbooks from schools has, in a 9-year trajectory, taken off from the basis of a collaborative postgraduate effort to becoming a mainstream government-supported resource now aiming for independent sustainability. The success story is that 2.5 million print copies of open access science and maths textbooks for high schools are being distributed by the Department of Education.

The afternoon ended with vivid overviews of citizen science programmes in biodiversity, presented by Tali Hoffman and Prof Les Underhill from the Avian Demography Unit in the Zoology Department and the Department of Statistical Science.

What was clear is that open education is alive and well in a number of centres in the Western Cape. However, there is fragmentation and too much dependence on often unacknowledged departmental and individual contributions. The SUN example, demonstrating the power of institution-level investment could usefully be explored in other institutions.  Institutional and government policy development to support open education in its widest sense would go a long way towards delivering the our national goals of growing participation in higher education and the enhancing university contributions to national development.

UNESCO takes Open Access into the mainstream – but what about South Africa?

Paris sunset

In 2011 the last event I attended was the UNESCO Open Access Forum held in Paris in November. I came away with the strong sense that open access was at last in the mainstream, a central component of global thinking, based on access to knowledge as a fundamental human right and on arguments about the effectiveness of open access in contributing to social and economic benefits. At about the same time I was asked to compile an overview of open access in South Africa, bringing me face to face with the variety and the fragmentation of the South African open access scene. What is missing in South Africa was any coherent involvement of government in brokering policies on communication or technology policy for a 21st century vision of higher education in Africa – where South Africa could be leading the way.

As I discussed in my last blog , a new Green Paper on Post-School Education and Training in South Africa has taken quite a strong stance on policy for open educational resources, drawing on UNESCO’s OER intervention as a validation for this policy strand. But what about open access – access to research findings?  There is very little about research communication in the Green Paper – as is all too often the case with analysis of research capacity development in South Africa, or indeed in the region. And why should South Africa bother?

The UNESCO OA Forum was important not only because the organization is now putting its weight behind OA – and particularly OA policy development – but also for what we learned abut mainstream OA interventions across the world, providing insights into how OA was functioning and what benefits were emerging.

The UNESCO OA strategy was adopted by the General Conference in its 36th meeting in November 2011, building on UNESCO’s ‘resolve to build knowledge societies through the use of information technologies’. The underpinning vision is that access to information is crucial as a way of reducing the knowledge divide and increasing socio-economic development in a world in which Northern dominance of knowledge production and high prices for technology access and the high prices for peer reviewed research publications act as barriers. The OA strategy plan places a strong emphasis on the creation of an enabling environment, the fostering of collaboration and the advocacy role that UNESCO could play in national policy development (a set of OA policy guidelines will be published shortly).

On the journal front, the message was that OA journals were growing exponentially, from 560 journals in 2003 to over 7,300 in 2011, as Lars Bjornshauge of SPARC reported, but that there is a problem in the preponderance of small, single-journal publishers. For the latter problem, aggregation services are important, something that does have national policy implications, as is the case in South Africa where the Academy of Science is running the the SciELO South Africa initiative with government support. While the overwhelming majority of journals (71% in general and 87% in Latin America) do not charge article processing fees, there are questions around how to deal with the APC costs for those that do, especially for developing country authors. Again, there is a potential policy issue in setting up guidelines and financial streams for dealing with APCs.

There were some powerful players participating in the forum, including the European Commission, the FAO, WHO, donor organisations like the Wellcome Trust, and professional organsiations like IFLA and the International Association of STM Publishers, The EU commitment is to a high level vision of e-infrastrucure  and a package of policies, programmes and activities for the support of OA, spelled out by Carlos Morais Pires, Norbert Lossau and Jean-Francois Dechamp This plays out in two Communities of Practice (CoP), the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) and Open Access Infrastructure for Research in Europe (OpenAIRE). Preparatory work is being done on a European Open Data Infrastructure (for EU organizational data). The strategic vision behind all this combines the language of innovation, educational empowerment, resource efficiency, economic competitiveness, employment growth and poverty reduction. In other words, mobilizing top level support in the EU for the adoption of an internet society approach to collaboration and openness is not just an idealistic commitment to human rights, but a hard-headed strategy for competitiveness, growth and social stability.  This is based on hard and soft law, is backed up by support services and is worth investing in.

I have had discussions over the years with publishers from the FAO at book fairs over the years and so was very interested to see the comprehensive and powerful programme that is being put into place through the collaborative CIARD programme – for Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research and Development – presented by Stephen Rudgard. The CIARD partners, a wide range of agricultural organisations – will collaborate to promote common platforms, adopt open systems and create a global network of information. The aim is to ensure effective investment in agricultural research, strengthen capacity for the creation of research repositories and also for the ‘creation of networks for formal and informal networks for repackaging outputs’ – in other words for ensuring wider access and appropriate communication levels beyond the research community.

The importance of this kind of ‘translation’ emerged in Robert Kiley’s presentation on the Wellcome Trust’s open access initiative, which requires the research it funds to be published in an open access journal or placed in the PubMed Central repository. This was also endorsed by a statistic provided by Alma Swan – that 40% of the users in PubMed Central are ordinary citizens. Kiley argued that the UK would save money adopting OA publishing, if the APC fees were at the level of £2,000 and that for the Wellcome Trust to support publication of all the research outputs produced from its research that it funded would cost only 1.25% of its research funding. There are also arguments for the effect of the open availability of research as an important stimulus for innovation and economic growth, especially for small businesses, as demonstrated in a Danish study. Citing hard-headed figures, this article explores the costs that are incurred when small businesses don’t have access to research outputs and the financial benefits that accrue through open innovation when they do.

Against this background, it is striking that so little discussion – and for that matter, research – in South Africa pays attention to the importance of effective communication of research and the need for technical infrastructure and skills to support this. Instead, the discussion focuses on journal articles published in ‘leading’ journals (i.e. ISI) and the ‘impact’ status and competitiveness that this is perceived to bring. The Minister of Higher Education and Training knows the limitations of this system, as I have explored in a journal article. It would be good to open a discussion of the advantages of open access for southern Africa in the context of the Green Paper.