Open access repositories begin to reap benefits for South African science as CSIR research goes global

There are interestingsigns of an increase in the momentum of change in researchcommunications in South Africa. And equally interesting reflectionsto be made on who is not in this game – for example where are UCT and Wits in all this? 

The latestmove has been the announcement in Seoul, Korea of the creation of aglobal science gateway, (Thanks to PeterSuber's Blog and Denise Nicholson's Newsletter for alerting meto this news.) The good news is that this time there is a good SouthAfrican presence through the participation of the CSIR's ResearchSpace repository and the African journals from 24 countries thatappear as a result of AfricanJournals Online (AJOL).

WorldWideScience is,according to its website, 'a global science gateway connecting you tonational and international scientific databases. It hopes to'accelerate scientific discovery and progress by providing one-stopsearching of global science sources'. This project is managed by theWorldWideScienceAlliance backed by a bilateral agreement between the USDepartment of Energy's Office ofScientific and Technical Information (OSTI) and the BritishLibrary and run through the Paris-based InternationalCouncil for Scientific and Technical Information (ICSTI), Ablogon the OSTI site provides some background:

Thedilemma is that no single scientist can be expected to be aware ofthe hundreds of high-quality STI sources on the web. Moreover, evenif a person were aware of all of these sources, he or she simplywouldn’t have the time to search them one-by-one to find thescientific knowledge that will help accelerate his or her ownefforts. And, finally, this scientist will not be able to find thelarge majority of these resources through typical search engines(such as Google, Yahoo!, MSN, etc.) because most scientific databasesare only accessible in the “deep web.”

The answer proved to bethe creation of federated searching and precision relevance rankingtechnology to provide a single gateway to a number of nationalscience databases.

The CSIR putsSouth Africa on the map with its participation and its presence onthe Executive Board of the Alliance, while the 24 African countriesthat have journals in the AJOL service give Africa a much strongerpresence than it would have otherwise. Although up until recentlyAJOL has provided abstracts from its member journals, there are now39 open access journals available (including the SouthAfrican Journal of Medicine) and AJOL is in the process ofupgrading its website to provide full text to all journals. It is tobe hoped that there will be more open journals to come.

The story of the CSIR'sestablishment of its repository is an interesting one, described insome detail in anarticle in Ariadne by Martie van Deventer and Heila Pienaar in April2008. As Martie and Heila describe it, the process of creatinginstitutional repositories at the University of Pretoria and the CSIRwas an uphill slog, but one that has proved very worthwhile. Thestory is telling: the initiatives originality started out with a 2002national strategy for a framework for e-research, which resulted in2004 in the plan for a framework, SARIS. As it was planned, it wouldhave provided a national portal, Open Access standards and OAinstitutional repositories, and a digital curation service, all thislinked to the national innovation plan. However, as the authors putit, 'it soon became evident that there would be no nationalco-ordination of these efforts in the near future, and thatindividual institutions would have to start their own initiatives.Fortunately organisations such as eIFL and the Mellon Foundation havebeen playing an important role in the development of the SouthAfrican information industry and with their assistance severalinitiatives were kick- started.'

After a fairly fragmentedstart, things came together in 2007 and there is now a morecollaborative approach to creating institutional repositoriesn inSouth Africa, the article reports. There are now 10 South Africanrepositories listed in Open Doar. (UCT, by the way, does not have an institutional repository,although there are departmental repositories in ComputerScience and UCT Lawspacein the Faculty of Law, which is not listed in Open Doar).

As for the CSIR's ResearchSpace, which is now getting worldwide exposure (which can only begood for the institution and its reputation) the story is a familiarone of personal commitment by a group of dedicated advocates, helpedby collaboration and information-sharing with the University ofPretoria (UP) and its team. UP, with support from a strategiccommitment by senior management, in the wake of SARIS, created firstan institutional thesis and dissertations repository, UPeTD(with mandated deposit) and then a research repository, UPSpace.With growing support from academic staff, as the benefits ofincreased exposure became clear, and top-level commitment to thevalue of open access repositories, UP is considering a mandate fordeposit of academic articles.

At the CSIR, althoughthere was support for the idea of bringing the science council's bodyof research online in open access, barriers were created when theorganisation centralised its ICT management, so that the repositoryhad to queue for services. The situation was salvaged bycollaboration with the University of Pretoria and a more gradualapproach. From there the open access effect took over, as Googlesearches started to find the content that was being uploaded:

CSIRIS staff members werestill in the process of uploading documents when the IT departmentbecame aware of additional activity on their server. By the end ofApril 2007 just fewer than 6,000 copies of documents had beendownloaded… By the end of June, this figure had become more than28,000 documents. After several presentations and discussions it wasas if the organisation suddenly saw the potential of the initiativeand a formal decision was taken to make the repository part of theintegral design of the organisation’s new Internet site…Obviouslythe key stakeholders, government departments, are also pleasedbecause, in support of the CSIR’s core mandate (to improve thequality of lives of ordinary South Africans), publicly fundedresearch has become more accessible to a wider community.

The moral of the story – championship atinstitutional level is a necessary component if institutionalrepositories are to really fly, but this would go nowhere withoutdedication and commitment from the people driving this initiatives –from library and information services. The benefits become clearvery quickly and the added exposure for institutional (and national)research then becomes hard to ignore. A core problem in theinstitutions that are not following this path would appear to be afailure, that is all too common in South Africa, to recognise thestrategic importance of taking advantage of the opportunitiesoffered by digital technologies and the internet, not only forrepositories, but for its publishing activities more broadly . Mostuniversities in South Africa do not differ from their US colleagues,as the IthakaReport into University Publishing in a Digital Age, describes it:

Publishing generallyreceives little attention from senior leadership at universities andthe result has been a scholarly publishing industry that many in theuniversity community find to be increasingly out of step with theimportant values of the academy. As information transforms thelandscape of scholarly publishing, it is critical that universitiesdeploy the full range of their resources – faculty research andteaching activity, library collections, information technologycapacity, and publishing expertise – in ways that best serve bothlocal interests and the broader public interest. We will argue that arenewed commitment to publishing in its broadest sense can enableuniversities to more fully realize the potential global impact oftheir academic programs, enhance the reputations of their specificinstitutions, maintain a strong voice in determining what constitutesimportant scholarship and which scholars deserve recognition, and insome cases reduce costs. There seems to us to be a pressing andurgent need to revitalize the university’s publishing role andcapabilities in this digital age.

It is telling that both UCT and Wits, which claim thetop research spot in South Africa, do not appear to be taking this onboard at senior level. Why is this?


Stealing Empire – read, listen and join the subversion

This weekend, from 14-17 June the
Cape Town Book Fair
takes over the Cape Town International
Convention Centre, so this blog is about a new book, Stealing Empire, by Adam Haupt, published by the HSRC Press. Last year  close on 50,000 visitors attended,
giving the lie to the idea that South Africans don't read and are not
attracted to books. As Dave Chislett said today in his new blog – the
– on The Times
newspaper's blog site
, the problem is not that people don't read
– witness the high circulation of popular newspapers –  but rather that
publishers do not publish for them, nor bookshops target readers
beyond the safe urban middle class. 

In celebration of the Book Fair, today I am therefore pointing to
a book by a UCT colleague and partner in the PALM
, Adam Haupt, that does not target the popular readership
Dave is talking about, but explores some of the issues of global
media dominance that is part of the proplem. Published by the
HSRC Press
, this is a scholarly title, but provides an incisive
and lively account of the ways in which global coroporate media
interests dominate and appropriate 'aspects of youth, race, gender,
cultural expression and technology for their own enrichment – much to
the detriment of all society.' However the real appeal of the book is
not only the study of how this appropriation works, but also of how,
in a country like South Africa countercultures like that of the
hip-hop activists in the Cape Flats of Cape Town in turn use new
media and IP subversion to appropriate their own space. The book
explores the MP3 revolution and Napster and digital sampling in
hip-hop and explores alternatives to proprietary approaches to the
production of culture and knowledge. This is a theorised account of
dominant culture and subversion, drawing largely on Michael Hardt and
Antonio Negri's concept of Empire. This use of theory, said UCT
deputy-Vice-Chancellor at the launch a few weeks ago, is in itself an
act of appropriation and subversion. We in the developing world,
Martin argued, are not supposed to theorise; rather, we are required
to provide the raw materials for the theorists of the North. 

The extra treat is that you can listen to a
on the book that includes discussion of the book and
material from what was a very lively launch. The book is published by
the HSRC Press, which launched the book at the Book Lounge in Cape
Town, with perfromances from Burni,of the Cape Town feminist hip-hop
group, Godessa and Caco the Noble Savage, a hip-hop activist with a
wonderfully ironic take on the impact of globalisation that is the
subject of the book. Being able to listen to the artists that Adam is
talking about provides an added dimenstion to the reading of the book
-a must-read accompanied by a must-listen. 

Given that this is an HSRC Press book, it is available full text
online for free download. Print copies are available for sale in
South Africa and in many other countries through print-on-demand
distribution arrangements. So enjoy the Book Fair, but read Adam's
book, too to get a critical perspectiveof the forces at play

Adam will be speaking in a panel at the Book Fair on Saturday afternoon – “Holding us
together or pulling us apart?” The role of the South African Media
in the creation and mutation of identities." 

A major boost for Open Access scholarly publishing in South Africa – the Academy of Science springs into action

came back from a meeting of the Academy
of 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

Report on Scholarly Publishing in SA
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

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
of Education (DoE) publication grant system
, for the purpose of
paying per-article author charges through the institution where the
author is based.

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

seems that the DST's motivation in offering this support is linked to
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

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
project at the University
of 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.

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

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 to
be reviewed should start rolling out soon.

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.  


UCT signs the Cape Town Declaration

The University of Cape Town –
which is one of South Africa's leading research universities – last
week became one of the few major universities worldwide to sign the
Cape Town Declaration
on Open Education
(previously blogged here and here). The Declaration was signed by  Deputy 
Vice-Chancellor Martin Hall, at a function in the Senate Room, hosted
by the D-VC's office, the Centre for
Higer Education Development
and the Centre
for Educational Technology
and supported by the Shuttleworth Foundation. The motivation for the event came
from the OpeningScholarship
project, both because Cheryl Hodgekinson-Williams and I were
participants in the inaugural workshop for the drafting of the
Declaration and because it is becoming clear as the
OpeningScholarship project nears the end of its first phase that
there is undoubtedly a role to be played by opening education
resources at UCT. The function was a great success, judging from the
comments of UCT blogger Retroid

 I just had to comment on
this function: I had ignored what I thought was a boilerplate
invitation, only to be told sternly that they really did want to see
me there…so I went, and I was glad I did.

Prawns.  Serious
three-corner jobs and hot sauce.  Fruit kebabs.  Satay
chicken.  A more-than-passable Merlot/Cab blend….

Oh, and folk from the
Shuttleworth Foundation, a public signing of the Declaration
– and some very interesting conversation with folk that I only
ever meet at occasions like this….

I was very glad to discover
that the penetration of computer technology in to education at UCT
has come a long way since the old M(M)EG days, of which Martin Hall
reminded us – and that WebCT, which I found so clunky I never got
into it, despite trying hard – is completely superseded by Vula.

The reference here to Vula
(the UCT version of Sakai)
is apposite: in his speech, Martin Hall tracked the impetus for UCT's
signing  of the Declaration back to  the decision made a
few years ago to establish the Centre for Educational Technology as a
unit within the Centre for Higher Education Development – thus
identifying it as part of the university's development initiative –
and the decision to invest in becoming the first SAKAI partner
outside the USA.

The link between Sakai and OERs was endorsed a
few weeks ago at UCT by President Mary Sue Coleman of Michigan
University when a Michigan delegation visited UCT to renew the
partnership agreement between the two institutions. President Coleman
the launch of a joint programme to develop open education
resources in the Faculty of Medicine at UCT: 


Our final area of growing partnership
is knowledge sharing. Of course, everything we have discussed with
university leaders this week involves the exchange of ideas and
concepts. This specific initiative combines the dissemination of
knowledge with the immediacy and accessibility of global

Medical education and research is so
critical in today’s world, and we want to collaborate with South
African institutions to develop and provide open Internet access to
educational materials in medicine, public health and the health
sciences.The soul of
scholarship is research. From the current to the ancient,
universities must make all information accessible to faculty,
students, and the public.

A point of pride
for us is the creation of Sakai, the first global consortium of
higher education institutions using the concepts and technologies of
Open Educational Resources. Open Educational Resources encompass a
range of information – such as textbooks, course materials,
software and more – that can be accessed and re-used at no charge,
and already, more than 150 universities around the world draw upon
Sakai’s resources. 

We want to create
the same level of exchange between the University of Michigan’s
health sciences schools – medicine, nursing, public health and
dentistry – and medical students and faculty throughout Africa, so
they can access materials to supplement their medical educations. 

Speaking at
the signing of the Declaration, Martin Hall said that the freedoms of the internet must
be protected, or else knowledge will become a heavily-priced
commodity. 'Universities are not Mickey Mouse', he said, expanding on
the role of big corporates in the extension of copyright protection.
'The commercialisation of intellectual property presents difficult
challenges for a university', he argued. 'Universities thrive on
making knowledge freely available and the Cape Town Open Education
Declaration establishes important principles for ensuring that this

 The function was a useful moment to step back and take stock
of how far open approaches are taking hold at UCT. A gratifying
number of senior academics and administrators expressed support;
attendance from the academic staff included a number of new faces,
rather than only the usual suspects; and most gratifying, there was
enthusiastic support from the students. SHAWCO,
the long-established student-run NGO, that offers health,
educational  and welfare services, signed as an organisation and
SHAWCO leaders want to engage further with the potential offered by
the Declaration. 

Given this
impetus, it will be interesting to see where open education will be
at UCT in another year's time.  

The state of the nation 2008 – belatedly

Looking back, I see that the last time I posted a blog was in November 2007.
It is now April 2008. This should not be read as a sign that things here have
ground to a halt. On the contrary, a hectic round of overwork has
overtaken our lives, a treadmill of projects, meetings, workshops, and
conferences. I hope that this means that South
Africa is moving forward in opening scholarly
communications. However, South
Africa is never straightforward, so in
reviewing what has been happening while I have had my head down all
these months, I do not expect to report unremitting sunshine – there have been
some showers, although overall the signs are good.

This overview of the projects that are in progress right now is the first
instalment of a review of the way the year is looking – with quite a few items
that I will need to pick up in more detail in upcoming blogs.

Collaborative Projects

In November 2006, in Bangalore, some of us – funders and consultants – got
together to propose some collaboration in trying to map across one another to
create greater coherence achieving our mutual goals of  more open and effective research communications
in Africa. This was discussed again in a meeting at iCommons in Dubrovnik in June 2006
and we are now beginning to see the results. One major benefit that has emerged
is that the projects that are now being implemented, because they are
built on open access principles, can share each others' research findings
and resources, reducing duplication and increasing impact. The projects also
recognise that achieving policy change is a multi-pronged process, working at
all levels of the university system, from individual lecturers (often young and
lively innovators at the junior end of the hierarchy) to senior administrators
and government policy-makers.  Leveraging
the impact of several projects to achieve this makes a lot of sense.  

The projects I am now involved in, that are part of this collaboration,  include:

  • OpeningScholarship, a
    UCT-based project, funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation, is using a case study approach to explore the
    potential of ICT use and social networking to transform scholarly
    communication between scholars, lecturers and students, and the university
    and the community.
  • PALM Africa (Publishing and
    Alternative Licensing in Africa), funded by the IDRC, is exploring what the
     the application of flexible licensing regimes – including the
    newly-introduced CC+ and ACAP – can do to facilitate increased access to
    knowledge in South Africa and Uganda through the use of new business
    models combining open access and sustainable commercial
  • A2K Southern Africa,
    another IDRC project, is investigating research publication and open
    access in universities in the Southern African Regional Universities
  • The Shuttleworth Foundation
    and the OSI are supporting the Publishing Matrix project which is using an
    innovative, wiki-based approach to map the South African publishing
    industry along the whole value chain in such a way as to identify
    where open access publishing models could have most impact.  

Some interesting results are already emerging. The sharing of resources is
speeding up the process of getting projects off the ground. Researchers are given
instant access to background reports, bibliographies and readings and can
review each others' tagged readings in del-icio-us. The advantages become
obvious as I head off this evening for a planning workshop for the researchers
carrying out the A2KSA investigations  with
a range of briefing materials and readings instantly to hand.

Even more interestingly, having Frances Pinter of the PALM project explain
to South African publishers and NGOs that flexible licensing
models had the potential to defuse the stand-off between open access advocates and commercial
publishers, and members of the OpeningScholarship team at the same
meeting explaining how the use of new learning environments was changing the way
teaching and learning was happening, led to some unexpected enthusiasm for the
potential of new business models. Then Juta, the largest of the South African
academic textbook publishers, asked for a day-long workshop at UCT with the
OpeningScholarship and PALM teams to study these issues.  I have little doubt that listening to some of
the innovative approaches that are being taken by young lecturers at UCT
opened the publishers’ minds to the need to push further their forward
thinking about the ways in which their businesses might change in the near
future. A similar discussion is to be held with OUP South Africa in the next


Open Source and Open Access connect

We have found useful spaces in Vula – the UCT version of the Sakai learning management
environment – to maintain project
communications and track progress in our projects, using its social networking tools (something we perhaps learned from students
who identified this potential for student societies).  Funders and guests
from other projects can eavesdrop, creating greater coherence within and across
project teams and giving donors a real sense of participation in the projects
they are funding.

Vula, by the way has been hugely successful at UCT and there has been a
steady and very substantial growth in the number of courses online  – reaching over 800 already this year (from
under 200 in 2006) – and enthusiastic endorsement by students of the usefulness
of the learning environment. I have little doubt that the flexibility of an
open source system leads in turn to the potential for more openness in the use
of teaching materials –  but more of that
in a separate blog.

Open Education celebration

Right now, to celebrate UCT’s  commitment to Open Education, we are heading
down the hill to the Senate Room, where there is to be an official signing of
the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, making UCT, I think, one of the first
major universities to sign as an institution. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Martin Hall will sign
for the university and around 50 guests, from senior academics and administrators
to students will, we hope, sign individually, before raising a glass of good
South African wine to the potential for opening the gates of learning.   

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 comitted 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

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 particpation and not just of access, describing open education as a democratic collaborative environment with global particpation. 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 ( ).  "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.

Making connections – Open learning Southern African style

On the second day of the Southern African Regional Universities
Association (SARUA) Open Access conference last week, the penny
suddenly dropped. From the start, the signs were good – the
conference, which followed on from the SARUA Vice-Chancellors'
triennial congress, was, after all, focused on open access. The Chair
of SARUA, Professor Njabulo Ndebele of the University
of Cape Town
, the Botswana Minister of Education, J D Nkate and
the CEO of SARUA, Piyushi Kotecha, opened the conference with strong
statements on the value of Open Access in their respective
constituencies. This is echoed on the SARUA
which, unusually for a university association site,
acknowledges the importance of dissemination
a core value and makes a clear statement of its commitment to Open
Access both as one
of its programme areas
and as a core principle, as well as its
policy for
its own communications
. The central statement is perhaps this:

Open Access for increased quality research, enhanced collaboration,
and the sharing and dissemination of knowledge, is a central
principle for SARUA’s work. The Association is already engaging
with groups and networks of expertise and good practice locally and
globally in order to support the development of Open Access benefits
for HE.


the conference, the comments of these opening speakers did not
therefore appear to be glib statements of openness as a worthy value,
but seemed firmly embedded in a recognition of the need to create
equity for the developing world in its contribution to global
knowledge. What emerged, particularly from Piyushi Kotecha, was a
vision which could move SARUA universities on from the current
post-colonial reliance on the North for standards for research
competence, to a situation in which they could promote their own
competence as knowledge producers. As
Alma Swan commented
later in the proceedings, she thought that, with hindsight, the Open
Access movement should perhaps have named itself Open Dissemination,
to get away from the implicit dependence on access to knowledge from
the North-West that can sometimes emerge in development-speak. And it
goes further than Open Access alone.
Universities in the
southern African region, Piyushi Kotecha went on to say, need to
explore open research and open science in order to become research
intensive in the next 10-20 years, making a contribution not only to
global scholarly communications, but also creating links between
research, teaching and learning, and ensuring the contribution of
universities to socio-economic development in the region.

is an enlightened view and if it does indeed underpin future policy
initiatives by universities and governments in the region, it could
well help move the SARUA constituency on from the contradictions and
blockages that currently undermine the effectiveness of South African
research dissemination policy,
to a more effective role in achieving research impact
. This
could go some way to giving the region a leadership role on the

was great, but something continued to nag at the back of my mind. In
the Minister's speech and in some of the questions and comments from
the Vice-Chancellors attending the conference, there seemed to be a
slippage between Open Access as I would understand it –
dissemination and publication systems that, as Alma Swan summed it
up, are 'freely available, publicly available and permanently online'
– and another vision that was only obliquely alluded to, of Open
Access as access to universities for students. This question
continued to hover as Amanda Barratt, of the UCT
Law Library
(which, incidentally, hosts Lawspace,
the UCT law department repository) talked illuminatingly on open
access and human rights and the failure of proprietary IP systems to
deliver necessary development goals, particularly in an African
context. Something began to crystallise as Andrew
, of the Shuttleworth Foundation spoke about Text,
Hypertext and Rent Seeking,
charting the differences between the
linear and contained world of printed text and the fluidity of the
read-write web, a clash, as he vividly put it, between 'the
fundamental concept of the web and copyright as a series of little

connections emerged as Johannes
, echoing what Amanda Barrett had said, spoke of the
importance of education as a human freedom, citing the unhappy
statistics of education and research on the continent. He charted the
difference between the old information world in which richness had to
be sacrificed for the sake of wide reach and the new digital
paradigms in which we can combine reach and richness. However, 80% of
the world lives, he said, where infrastructure is lacking for
unbundled,digital information and education is therefore dependent on
physical objects such as books. He brought this down to a moral issue
– the bread principle, as he called it. If we can make information
and distribute it for a very marginal cost, then we have a new
economic model that could serve those deprived of access to
education. This is a moral imperative, but IP gets in the way. What
also gets in the way is the excessively high cost of
telecommunications in countries like South Africa and many other
African countries. This means, he said, that the moral agenda becomes
a money agenda. The bottom line, he argued, is that access to
information is a basic human right and information infrastructure is
fundamental to making access work.

all came together just after Derek Keats, of the University
of the Western Cape
, had talked about the
ways in which web 3.0 could break out
of the narrower confines on
university walls and the covers of books, offering abundance rather
than the limitations of a physical environment. In addition, social
networking environments allow students to become producers as well as
consumers of knowledge. This, he said, is a 'rip-mix-burn'
environment that allows for the creation of cross-institutional or
even non-institutional learning environments. The Vice-Chancellor of
the Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique responded to this with
considerable excitement. 'I was in a dark tunnel', he said 'and now I
can see a light.' He explained that his perception of the
scarcity/abundance arguement was that in Africa we have an abundance
of students and an abundance of thinly populated land. However there
is scarcity of lecturers and physical infrastructure. Having listened
to the earlier speeches and then bringing to bear what Derek had
said, he could now see the potential for ICTs and Open Access to help
a country like his. 'We should go where the students are living, take
the money that we would have used for infrastructure and reach them
where they are.' He could see, he said, how Open Access and social
networking tools can fundamentally change attitudes towards teaching
and learning.

linked back to some of the things that Christina
, of the Open
, had talked about. She described the steps that the OU
had had to take over the years to accommodate students who came to
university courses without formal entry requirements. This needs very
careful curriculum design, introductory courses front-loaded in terms
of support – and with continuing high levels of support to meet
student needs. Provision needs to be modular and very high levels of
assessment are built in. When it comes to technology gaps, she said
that she thought that Africa did not have to be held back by
infrastructure limitations as it had already leapfrogged in its use
of mobile technologies as
part of its blend. What she said about the curriculum also resonated
for Africa – that we need to maximise the potential of learning
online through the use of social networking as part of student

all suggests that in the context of higher education in southern
Africa, open access, combined with innovative use of mobile
technology and a recognition of the transfomative
of social networking, offers considerable potential
to move research and teaching away
from anachronistic hierarchical and locked-in models inherited from
the colonial era. Open access can therefore mean not only improved
research communications and a greater global contribution by African
research, but the use of open education and social networking might
offer great potential in under-resourced countries to provide access
for greater numbers of students to a well-supported, relevant and
effective higher education system.