The world’s leading universities move to open access

South Africa's leading research
universities are very keen to compete in the international arena,
ranking up comparative scores of international journal articles
published and citation counts and jostling for research ratings (more
on that tomorrow).

So, if we are competing with the big
players internationally, what are they up to? A review of developments
in open access in the last couple of months is a very telling insight
into how the terrain might be changing – not that the citation
counts have gone away, but that the big research universities seem to
be recognising the strategic importance of open communications. The
universities concerned are quite hard nosed and not into empty
gestures, so I imagine that their reasons for the actions they have
taken are strategic, as was MIT's decision to spend a lot of money
opening up its educational resources to the world.

In the last couple of months:

Harvard University's Faculty
of Arts and Sciences voted
unanimously to grant the university a
licence to make the faculty's scholarly articles freely available
online.The move was motivated in part by
dissatisfaction with the copyright restrictions and the escalating
cost of commercially published journals and in that mood, the move is
to greater control of the university's and its scholars' own output.
However, it is a also a firm commitment to the active and open
dissemination of research:

"This is a large and very
important step for scholars throughout the country. It should be a
very powerful message to the academic community that we want and
should have more control over how our work is used and
Shieber, James O. Welch, Jr. and Virginia B. Welch Professor of
Computer Science.

"The goal of university research
is the creation, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge. At
Harvard, where so much of our research is of global significance, we
have an essential responsibility to distribute the fruits of our
scholarship as widely as possible," said Steven E. Hyman,
provost. "Today's action in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
will promote free and open access to significant, ongoing research.
It is a first step in the creation of an openaccess environment for
current research that may one day provide the widest possible
dissemination of Harvard's distinguished faculties' work," he

Shortly afterwards, the
Harvard Faculty of Law followed suit
, committing to make articles
authored by faculty available free online.

Harvard University is now creating an
Office for Scholarly
, situated in the university libraries, under the
aegis of the historian Robert Darnton. (perhaps emulatingthe
University of California's similarly-named position). This office
will ensure that faculty, when signing publishing agreements, will do
so in such a way as to best serve the public interest. The Office
will also oversee the creation of a repository for university

The motivations for all of these moves
talk of the prestige of Harvard research and the need to make it
available globally. Clearly Harvard sees opening its intellectual
capital as a good way of advancing its research mission and profiling
the university.

In June 2008, at the ElPub conference
in Toronto, John Willinsky announced that the Stanford University
School of Education had emulated Harvard in passing a unanimous
motion for a mandate for the open access deposit of research
articles. (See the
account in Peter Suber's Open Access News
and the report in the
) The Stanford
School of Humanities and Science
is now considering a similar
mandate, Peter Suber reports.

Also inspired by Harvard, the
Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University has
to the university that they adopt and Open Access
policy. Details are in his blog
(he has a blog, take note!)

And Michigan University has created
Open Michigan, which
provides a gateway to a wide variety of university resources (via
Suber's blog
). It includes open education resources, open
software and open publishing and archives. Again, this is a strategic
initiative: as the university describes it:

With a common goal
of opening resources for teaching, learning and research for use and
enhancement by a global community, these projects increase the value
of those resources to U-M and the world. Open.Michigan provides a
clear view of the many places and ways U-M contributes to our world's
knowledge and creates exemplary resources for education and research.

That is just a few months' worth in the
US. The question is, 'What are we doing at UCT? And in South Africa more generally?'