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.