“Knowledge does not impact on society if it is unable to disseminate” – Merton.
Misconceptions about what Open Access (OA) really means may have contributed to the slow uptake and support thereof, worldwide. Through the years academics have published articles with leading commercial enterprises and invariably signed away their copyright to publishers. Many African researchers can still not afford the fees to have their research published and have to pay to get access to citations. All of this results in a slow, closed, and costly process.
In 2014, Czerniewicz and Goodier, in the South African Journal of Science, wrote that true OA is not only based on legally open licenses whereby an author actually retains copyright and specifies the permitted uses, but it is also more aligned with academic freedom than traditional copyright agreements. OA applies to all forms of online published research output, including peer-reviewed and non peer-reviewed academic journal articles, theses and book chapters. The important factor is that, with OA, researchers can now harvest information efficiently and poorer countries are enabled with restriction-free access to a rich collection of citations.
According to the Global Open Access Portal, the OA movement in Africa has recently gained momentum. In 2015, the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) issued a statement that encouraged higher education institutions to formulate policies on providing OA to research publications funded by the NRF. In the same year, OA policies from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Algeria, South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria were registered in the Registry of Open Access Repository Policies and Mandates (ROARMAP), and more than 125 OA digital repositories were registered in the Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR).
Although many universities in South Africa have been committed to the Berlin Declaration on Open Access in the Sciences and Humanities since 2012, Dr Leti Kleyn, Manager: Open Scholarship and Digitisation Programmes at the University of Pretoria, at the Apereo Africa 2017 conference, gave another passionate call for more openness at universities in South Africa. This will, amongst many other benefits, increase transparency and quality of research by speeding up the transfer of knowledge, improve efficiency in science, and address subsequent global challenges more effectively. Most importantly, as demonstrated by the Homo Naledi research outputs on mainstream TV news channels, Facebook and other social media: Not only the closed academic communities who can afford to pay lots of money for published articles will have access to scholarly articles – ordinary citizens can also become involved. OA will allow all Internet readers anywhere in the world, to link, read, download, store, print, use and mine the digital content of the articles with limited copy and licence restrictions.
The Internet revolution has availed information and knowledge sharing in an openly accessible fashion. Academic outputs should not be locked and paywalled from the public and researchers alike. OPENCOLLAB promotes the use of open source software to help drive the Open Access initiative in opening up access to educational and research materials worldwide.
Authors: Martilene Orffer, Garth Airey and Elsabe Botha