|Dr Claire Botha, Director for the Thuthuka Programme, has been at the National Research Foundation (NRF) since 2008, with responsibilities related to the management of research grants and value adding support initiatives for emerging researchers. Prior to joining the NRF, Dr Botha, spent a number of years in academia, notably at the Human Science Research Council (HSRC) and at the University of Limpopo, focusing her teaching and research on health policy. She holds a Ph.D. in Health Policy and a postgraduate Diploma in Public Health and Policy, both from the University of London’s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Dr Botha also spent a stint as a manager in the National Department of Health contributing towards the various policies in the health finance arena.|
Ten South African universities, the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) were among the signatories of the Berlin Open Access Declaration who received certificates at the yearly Berlin Open Access (OA) Conference hosted by the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) at the University of Stellenbosch (SU) from 06 to 08 November 2012.
All Berlin Open Access Declaration signatories commit themselves to the dissemination of knowledge and research outputs by making them widely and readily available to society. This includes utilising new technologies to facilitate distribution and removing financing barriers to increase access.
Minister Derek Hanekom, Minister of Science and Technology gave an address at the conference gala dinner, highlighting the massive benefits to be gained from Open Access, especially from an African perspective.
"The adoption of open-access principles, which can help to remove these financial barriers to access to information, is one of the most progressive ways of growing and showcasing African research," said the Minister, pledging government support for the Open Access movement.
Minister Hanekom also noted that academic libraries, especially those in Africa, have limited access to critical research information. This stifles the growth of African research and its capacity to find solutions to the plethora of problems confronting the continent. Access barriers sometimes even result in critical, relevant knowledge and research outputs generated in Africa being published in journals overseas - journals that are not affordable to African academic libraries. This means that Africa is in fact deprived of its own knowledge production, relegating the continent to the status of silent and invisible contributor to research output.
It was, therefore, encouraging to see 15 other African institutions receive their certificates, indicating a steady growth in Open Access adoption on the continent.
Prof Russel Botman emphasised the relevance of the Berlin 10 Open Access Conference being hosted on African soil. "To my mind, that means Africa has taken up a very important baton. The continent is ready to lead itself, its sciences, in relation to the network of sciences worldwide, deeper into the 21st century. We are on track to really make the 21st century Africa's century, because Open Access will help us move the continent from the periphery of knowledge production to the centre.”
Closer to home, the conspicuous absence from the signatory list of Historically Disadvantaged Institutions (HDIs) is a cause for concern. Given the resource challenges faced by HDIs, these institutions stand to gain the most from joining the Open Access movement.
One of the stronger themes to emerge from the conference was the "Call to Activism", led by Professor Adam Habib, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg. Professor Habib made a passionate plea for South Africa's tertiary institutions to work together and maximise their combined library budgets so as to have more buying power. He also called for radical action to counter the monopoly of academic publishing houses that made huge profits through public funded research. Professor Habib called for activism within the academic research environment saying that it was time for pushing boundaries to ensure that Open Access becomes a reality within the South African tertiary institution environment.
Emphasising the importance of partnerships in building an Open Access culture, Professor Bernard Schutz of the Max Planck Society based in Germany, says, "The Max Planck Society believes all stakeholders must work together! It is ready to cooperate with any partners.”
The partnership imperative was echoed by several other presenters who shared experiences from their respective countries. Many identified the lack of partnerships as one of the main barriers to Open Access adoption. The main lesson to be learned from Northern Hemisphere countries where OA has made significant progress include:
Signing the Berlin Open Access Declaration is an important, but not the sole, step in committing an organisation to a culture where information is made widely and readily available to society. This commitment has to find practical application in the creation of actual platforms where the information can be accessed. Two popular platforms for achieving this are through Open Access journals and Open Access repositories. In this regard a number of South African institutions, some of which have not signed the Berlin Open Access Declaration, are maintaining Open Access repositories. At the time of writing this article, the Directory of Open Access Repositories (DOAR) listed 24 South African repositories. Even more encouraging are the 54 South African Open Access journals registered with the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).
Another indicator of Open Access proliferation is the adoption of Mandatory Archiving Policies (MAP). MAP requires researchers/grant recipients to provide open acess to their peer-reviewed research article output by depositing it in an open access repository. Registry of Open Access Repositories Mandatory Archiving Policies (ROARMAP) listed six South African MAP mandates registered at the time of writing this article. Organisations with registered mandates include ASSAf (Thesis Mandate), University of Johannesburg (Institutional Mandate), University of Pretoria (Institutional Mandate, Thesis Mandate), University of Stellenbosch (Thesis Mandate) and the University of South Africa (Institutional Mandate). South Africa currently has no registered funding mandates (which would apply to organisations such as the NRF and the MRC), nor does it have any multi-institutional mandates (which would typically be adopted at a governmental level).
Although the number of South African Open Access signatories shows steady growth, a large number of potential signatories still fall outside the fold. Considering the significant number of research councils, funding agencies, museums and government agencies who have yet to sign the Berlin Open Access Declaration, the country has a long way still to go. While the country is doing fairly well with the deployment of Open Access journals and Open Access repositories, it is alarming to note that so few institutions and that no funding agencies have adopted mandatory archiving policies.