by Dante Piras

Open access

Making information available to all

Information for those who seek it
Open access to information

For the first time in Africa, the Berlin 10 Open Access Conference was hosted by the Stellenbosch University (SU).

Senior representatives of the European Commission as well as the Federal Republic of Germany made it quite clear that open access has their full support. And SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Russel Botman made an exciting announcement about new open access platforms for Africa. 

“We need to share knowledge – especially when we are faced with global challenges such as climate change, clean energy or food and water security, which are so complex that one country or company cannot provide all the answers,” Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, said in her keynote address in front of 282 delegates from across the globe. 

In a recent study of SMEs in Denmark, 64% of those in research roles rated research articles as very or extremely important.

“Knowledge creation is inextricably linked to access,” said Dr Horst Freitag, German Ambassador to South Africa.

Although the ideal is that end users can access academic knowledge via open access platforms at no cost or a very small charge, there is great potential for economic returns. 

“It is clear that open access spurs innovation, generates jobs and creates wealth,” Geoghegan-Quinn said.

She emphasised that the EU earlier this year launched a major new drive to open up the EU member states’ national research systems – not only to each other but to the rest of the world to ensure the free flow of knowledge between countries. 

In 2010, Stellenbosch University became the first African higher-education institution to sign the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. Since then, another 27 African signatories have come on board.

“There is a tremendous enthusiasm for knowledge production and full participation in the global knowledge community in Africa. Clearly the continent has aspirations to grow its share in global knowledge production. Knowledge drives development, and open access accelerates that drive,” Botman said last night at the welcoming reception for delegates.

On Wednesday, the University reaffirmed its commitment to promoting open access across the continent when Botman announced the launch of two new platforms – specifically for Africa. They are a digital repository collection (the “green route” to open access) and a platform for publishing academic journals online (the “gold route”). 

“The aim is to assist African higher-education institutions to become independent digital academic publishers,” Botman said. 

“For those who need it, we will host their online collections and train their professional staff. The training will not just cover skills development for managing these systems, but we will work towards our partners building and running their own systems over time.” 

Ms Ellen Tise, Director of the SU’s Library and Information Service, said that SU already has the software and hardware systems in place to offer assistance and training to colleagues from other African institutions.

“We will use open-source programmes to offer these services. However, as the interest and the demands on our own human resources grow, we will most probably have to employ more people to assist with the training of our colleagues from institutions in other African countries.”

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Issue 58