A major boost for Open Access scholarly publishing in South Africa - the Academy of Science springs into action
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Icame back from a meeting of the Academyof Science (ASSAF) Committee on Scholarly Publishing in SouthAfrica (CSPiSA) last week feeling bouyed up and looking forward to aperiod of rapid developments in Open Access scholarly publishing inSouth Africa. We were told that the Department of Science and Technology(DST) has now dedicated a substantial three-year budget to fundthe implementation of ASSAF's recommendations for the development ofscholarly publication in South Africa. This is important stuff – aforward-looking government department investing in a major way in thedevelopment of scholarly publication, linking this to the country'sstrategic science and technology growth objectives and offeringsupport for what is in many ways a visionary Open Access programmethat is expected to deliver considerable progress in the next threeyears.
TheASSAF Report on Scholarly Publishing in SA wasan important milestone in the development of a coherent and effectivescholarly publishing environment in SA. As reported in earlierblogs, the Report was commissioned by the DST and produced what wasprobably the most coherent account of the state of scholarlyjournal publishing in South Africa, concluding with a set of 10recommendations which included strong support for the development ofa 'gold route' Open Access approach to journal publishing in SouthAfrica.
Thecentral vision of the report is for quality-controlled and governmentsupported publication of open access journals of a sufficient qualityto deliver local impact and international recognition. Qualitycontrol is to be through a peer review process carried out across thedifferent discuplines in collaboration with the National JournalEditors' Forum. Financial support for open access journalpublication, it proposed, would be by way of the dedication of asmall percentage of the revenue paid to journals through theDepartmentof Education (DoE) publication grant system, for the purpose ofpaying per-article author charges through the institution where theauthor is based.
Backingthis up is a recommendation for the creation of a national technicaland promotional platform for hosting and profiling the best SouthAfrican journals, possibly along the lines of SciELO in LatinAmerica. It is envisaged that the national platform would hostselected journals that would profile the best of South Africanresearch.
Itseems that the DST's motivation in offering this support is linked toits 10-yearplan for human capital development,which proposes a radical growth in the level of postgraduate degrees,publications and innovation levels in higher education. The ASSAfscholarly publication programme is thus seen as a key to the processof raising the bar for the quality and output of research in thecountry and leveraging upwards the profile of the country in theinternational research rankings, while at the same time improving thepositive impact of research on economic growth and socialdevelopment.
OpenAccess has been recommended not only in response to the need forincreased accessibility but also for higher levels of internationalvisibility and citation counts to profile South African research inthe conventional international rankings. While the focus of thisprogramme is fairly conventional, focusing primarily on peer reviewedscholarly journals that could perform well in the internationalcitation rankings, this is a major step forward simply because itputs publication of South African research in South Africa in thespotlight and, through links with the African Academies of Science, connects this to a broader effort to raise publication levels on thecontinent. (The creation of an African citation index is one of therecommendations in the ASSAf Report on Scholarly Publishing in SouthAfrica.) And, even more important, this intervention at lastrecognises that scholarly publishers need support if South Africaresearch is to be properly disseminated.
We understand thatthe DST accepts that this model may require long term subsidisationfor Open Access journal support and this support is perceived as partof a national service project to build capacity and serve everyscholar. To me, as a publisher, this is of central importance. In theOpeningScholarshipproject at the Universityof Cape Town, for example, we have discovered that theuniversity tracks the authorship of articles (with the purpose ofsecuring the grants that the DoE pays for publication in accreditedjournals), but that there is no tracking of publication – who isediting or publishing what and where. Publication efforts –editing, peer reviewing and producing scholarly and otherpublications – are therefore invisible and, not surprisingly Ithink, under-supported. This is surely detrimental to theuniversity, as this is an opportunity lost to profile theconsiderable contribution that this leading research university makesto scholarship and development initiatives in the region.
CSPiSA'sdelivery of the activities that have been prioritised should startvery soon now: the rolling peer review of journals across differentsubject area will be carried out in collaboration with theJournal Editors' Forum(see myblog on theinaugural meeting of the Forum last year). The idea is that this willnot only be a quality evaluation process but will be designed toprovide the potential for the development of the knowledge and skillsthat could lead to quality improvement. Agreement on the compositionof the review panels is being sought and the first subject areas tobe reviewed should start rolling out soon.
Afurther intervention being undertaken over the next six months, thistime with DoE support, is the production of a Report on a StrategicApproach to Scholarly Book Publishing by a selected panel of experts,following a fact-finding investigation by CREST at the University ofStellenbosch. Provisional findings should be available forpresentation at the National Scholarly Journal Editors' Forum in Julyand it is hoped that the final report should be ready for release in November. Another important milestone, this, as book publication is seriously under-supported and under-valued in South African policy, in spite of the remarkable success of the open access social science research council publisher, the HSRC Press.
Let's see where we are this time next year. Much further down the road, I suspect.