Professor Ruth Hoskins, Dean and Head of Teaching and Learning in the College of Humanities at UKZN, delivered her virtual inaugural lecture on Open Access in Foregrounding African Scholarship.
Hoskins said academics and researchers played a significant role in scholarly communication through publication and sharing of their research findings. ‘Access to scholarly literature has particularly been a major obstacle in Africa and developing countries mainly because of tight library budgets. The high cost of academic literature is one of the significant access barriers to scholars in developing countries, apart from the lack of information and communication technology and internet connectivity,’ she said. ‘African research output is not sufficiently visible in the global arena yet it is known that research is taking place within the institutions.’
Hoskins argued that restrictions on access to knowledge had led to significant non-productive activity and lost opportunities for African researchers, knowledge workers and the general public. ‘Scholarly publishing in Africa still lags behind in the global sphere, which paints a gloomy picture of the development of Africa’s economies in the absence of research output.’
She posited primary reasons for the elusiveness of African scholarly research in which research production is falling in comparative terms compared to the global north regions, reducing its relative visibility. Traditional metrics of visibility, especially the Web of Science Impact Factor, which measures only formal scholar-to-scholar outputs, such as journal articles and books, which fail to make visible a vast amount of African scholarly production.
Thus, underestimating the amount of research activity on the continent, and that many African universities do not take a strategic approach to scholarly communication such as open access to broaden the reach of their scholars’ work or curate it for future generations, inadvertently minimizes the impact and visibility of African research.
Said Hoskins, ‘Only South Africa has a reasonably tractable degree of visibility. To improve visibility, a new framework based on open information strategies to production of knowledge, publishing, and dissemination in response to challenges to scholarly communication needs to be developed. Integral to
such a framework, should be the adoption of a ‘vision for Open Knowledge in African Universities and the establishment of a research publishing and dissemination platform. As open access holds the potential of disclosing knowledge that has been kept hidden to institutions worldwide, universities are embracing open access to become an integral part of the infrastructure for supporting and advancing scholarly research’.
Hoskins suggests that where open access policies do not exist they must be developed and with an accompanying implementation plan that supports the deposit of research output to the institutional repository, and for ongoing capacitation of scholars jointly by research divisions and the library which is essential to overcome the low deposit rates by scholars.
‘As noted with UKZN signing the Berlin Declaration on open access, the declaration supports recognition of open access publication in promotion and tenure evaluations in universities. African scholarship can no longer be relegated to the background. There is a responsibility on all African institutions and their scholars to ensure increased access and visibility of African scholarship.
‘African institutions must embrace open access as a means to foregrounding African scholarship,’ concluded Hoskins.