Open Access Education and ‘south-south’ cooperation


Recently there has been increasing interest in the benefits obtained from free knowledge provided through open access initiatives. In the last decade a number of relevant initiatives have been created to promote open access practices in education and research [i.e.: Open CourseWare Consortium, ScienceCreativeCommons; UNESCO Chair in Open Educational Resources; Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge; EU Commission announced new measures to open up science].

Why Open Access matter? The society as a whole can benefit from accelerated research cycles (immediate access to findings) and new possibilities of (self/informal) learning. Researchers and educators who provide open licence educational/scientific materials gain visibility, recognition and expand their networks. Broader and more rapid access to scientific papers and data can make it easier for researchers and businesses to build on the findings of public-funded research. Publishers likewise also benefit from wider dissemination and higher journal citation impact factor of their articles.

For instance, the European Commission announced by 2014 all articles produced with funding from Horizon 2020 will have to be accessible:

  • articles will either immediately be made accessible online by the publisher (‘Gold’ open access) – up-front publication costs can be eligible for reimbursement by the European Commission; or
  • researchers will make their articles available through an open access repository no later than six months (12 months for articles in the fields of social sciences and humanities) after publication (‘Green’ open access).

Conversely, the promised benefits of Open Access for developing regions are not necessarily realistic. For instance, Open Society Foundations has made noteworthy contributions in a few developing countries (i.e. Brazil). Unfortunately these are rare exceptions and not the norm. Open content is insufficiently adopted by academic and educational organizations in these regions. Although there are particular ‘Open Educational Resources and Open Access’ [OER & OA] initiatives in developing countries, the immense majority are produced by individuals or institutions from developed nations and therefore not always sufficiently adapted to the circumstances of the target country. This imbalance is problematic.

Some of the key proxies to understand this growing divide are lack of social and cultural capital; geographical location (developing countries) and language barriers (non-English speaking communities). Moreover it is not possible to develop a culture of OER & OA if the inhibiting factors are not analysed with local stakeholders.

Open Society Foundations, for instance, has made noteworthy contributions in a few countries developing (i.e. Brazil) unfortunately these are rare exceptions and not the norm. New efforts are needed in this field not only to enhance traditional north-south collaboration but also to foster  ‘south-south’ cooperation. We welcome the existing OA initiatives [i.e. Global OER Graduate or our OportUnidadProject.EU] but also we encourage supporters to contribute towards enabling the creation of new projects in this field.

Peter Suber prepared an Open Access Overview which include a great compilation of ideas in this field. Some of this benefits described by him need to be carefully reviewed by education senior manager and policy makers from developing regions. Let me highlight some of them here:

OA serves the interests of many groups.

  • Authors:  OA gives them a worldwide audience larger than that of any subscription-based journal, no matter how prestigious or popular, and demonstrably increases the visibility and impact of their work.
  • Readers:  OA gives them barrier-free access to the literature they need for their research, unconstrained by the budgets of the libraries where they may have access privileges. OA increases reader reach and retrieval power. OA also gives barrier-free access to the software they use in their research.
  • Teachers and students:  OA puts rich and poor on an equal footing for these key resources and eliminates the need for payments or permissions to reproduce and distribute content.
  • Libraries:  OA solves the pricing crisis for scholarly journals. It also solves what I’ve called the permission crisis. OA also serves library interests in other, indirect ways. Librarians want to help users find the information they need, regardless of the budget-enforced limits on the library’s own collection. Academic librarians want to help faculty increase their audience and impact, and help the university raise its research profile.
  • Universities:  OA increases the visibility of their faculty and research, reduces their expenses for journals, and advances their mission to share knowledge.
  • Journals and publishers:  OA makes their articles more visible, discoverable, retrievable, and useful. If a journal is OA, then it can use this superior visibility to attract submissions and advertising, not to mention readers and citations. If a subscription-based journal provides OA to some of its content (e.g. selected articles in each issue, all back issues after a certain period, etc.), then it can use its increased visibility to attract all the same benefits plus subscriptions. If a journal permits OA through postprint archiving, then it has an edge in attracting authors over journals that do not permit postprint archiving. Of course subscription-based journals and their publishers have countervailing interests as well and often resist or oppose OA. But it oversimplifies the situation to think that all their interests pull against OA.
  • Funding agenciesOA increases the return on their investment in research, making the results of the funded research more widely available, more discoverable, more retrievable, and more useful. When funding agencies disburse public funds, OA helps in a second way as well, by providing fundamental fairness to taxpayers or public access to the results of publicly-funded research.
  • Governments:  As funders of research, governments benefit from OA in all the ways that funding agencies do (see previous entry). OA also promotes democracy by sharing non-classified government information as widely as possible.
  • CitizensOA gives them access to peer-reviewed research, most of which is unavailable in public libraries, and gives them access to the research for which they have already paid through their taxes. But even those with no interest in reading this literature for themselves will benefit indirectly because researchers will benefit directly. OA accelerates not only research but the translation of research into new medicines, useful technologies, solved problems, and informed decisions that benefit everyone.