Gray Area

Repositories at UCT


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A new blog - OER@UCT – is charting the process of setting up an OER repository at UCT:

In the next few months we will be documenting our progress as we attempt to build a repository of UCT open resources.  We are trying to encourage faculty and students to contribute to our repository buy adopting Creative Commons licences which enables content to be easily shared.

The first blog (posted on 1 April, but no April Fool's joke) has a nice quote about the impact of open resources:

"Open resources are the path to humility. They are an invitation to experimentation and collaboration. The more open the resource, the less one is committed to a single pedagogical path or theory, and the more one can profit from the insights of strangers, or collaborate with people one has never met."  (Bissell, Doyle)

The OER@UCT blog has now posted an account of Hussein Suleman's Teaching with Technology seminar last week at which he spoke on Open Access in a Closed Institution – Hussein's view of UCT;s progress, or lack thereof, in creating an institutional research repository. From the OER@UCT blog:

Hussein spoke very briefly about the OA movement and some of the rather interesting developments in this area.  Large institutions around the world are pushing for open access and taking measures to ensure that their own research outputs are made available.  MIT (always a leader) has created a repository using the opensource dSpace software platform.  This also includes over 20,000 thesis going back as far as the 1800's!!!
It makes good academic sense to do this.  For lecturers it creates an opportunity to collaborate and share research.  For students it provides access to high quality research and makes it easy for the growing "just google it" generation to do what they do best.
Have you ever been searching for an older news clipping, found it on the newspapers website, and then been asked to pay for the article?  I have found this incredibly irritating.  Why should I have to pay for old news?  This is an random rant - but the discussion really led me to think about it. ...
Here at UCT the idea of an open access repository for research has been under discussion for some time.  Certainly our research output is scattered throughout the internet and in journals around the world, but can we account for it and provide details about it?  Can we tell how many times those articles have been cited, or read?  An open access digital archive could answer some of these questions. 

Hussein says he had developed the UCT CS Research Document Archive for the Department of Computer Science here at UCT simply because he could not wait any longer for a university wide initiative to happen.  They now archive their publications and are able to provide details of how and when articles were accessed. The Law Faculty has also felt the need for a digital archive for their own research and have launched UCT Lawspace which also powers dSpace.  So it is clear that a unified system would be of great benefit if not only for these two faculties...

When I think of OER resources in the context of UCT I think of research output almost immediately.  Research papers, handbooks, conference papers, and articles will make a tremendous addition to our project.  Having them searchable and accessible will be of tremendous benefit in terms of reputation. 

As Hussein reported in his talk, UCT is moving now to create an institutional repository, with funding from Carnegie. The question he raised was, Why has it taken so long?  and 'Why does a university as prominent as UCT not invest in the creation of its own  repository rather than waiting for Carnegie to offer funding. It was clear from the information that Hussein provided that UCT has fallen badly behind other South African universities in adopting more open approaches to its research dissemination, with the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal the only other major South African university without an institutional repository.
One of my reflections on what Hussein was saying took was that there is a good deal of wastage in a university like UCT which produces very high quality research right along the spectrum of basic and applied research, but tends to favour the former in its research publication policy. The push at UCT is to get academics to publish as much as possible in  'internationally accredited' publications. This is a dual push – to enhance the research prestige of the university through increased citation impact and to earn the very generous subsidies paid by the Department of Education for such publication. While there is a list of South African accredited journals, the statistics show that UCT – probably the country's and the continent's leading research university – tends to publish journal articles rather than books and to publish these articles predominantly in ISI listed journals. In UCT's publication list submitted to the Department in 2005-6, only 78 out of 622 journal articles listed were in locally accredited journals. (There were 23 South African journals in the international indexes at that stage, so there would have been some overlap between local and international publication, but not much.)  In other words, to put it bluntly, given the profile of the journal industry that UCT favours, it exports most of its formal scholarly publication to commercial journals published by multinational conglomerates in the USA and Europe.
In the mean time, back home, our ever-inconsistent government, which pressurises South African universities to publish in this way in the name of global competitiveness, also berates those same universities for not doing enough to resolve our very pressing development issues, particularly unemployment and skills shortages. If one delves into the UCT record, it is clear that formidable levels of skill and intellect are being devoted to just such tasks. There are a large number of research units and collaborative research ventures devoted to interfacing high level basic research with community needs. These research units often publish a range of online policy papers, research reports,  discussion documents and data sets. Other units produce training materials and community handbooks. It is clear that the university has made a formidable contribution to policy development in health, poverty reduction, industrial and skills development, to name but a few.
Trying to find this rich record of research publication is, however, a mission. The publications are there, but buried in departmental websites that are in turn buried inside the university website. As good as this website is, this is just too many clicks away from discovery. The question I has to the senior administration was 'UCT is a major player in the development of an AIDS vaccine in South Africa. Why, if you google AIDS vaccine South Africa, does UCT's name not come up?'
Clearly, UCT could do a lot more using open access publishing, a strong repository system and some marketing of its wider range of publications, to demonstrate the contribution that is makes in return for taxpayer contributions.