The need to change the status quo: towards an open access scholarly communication model for Ethiopia

In the 21st century, where knowledge is considered as the competitive edge for excelling in what organizations envision; research and development is a crucial endeavour. Universities and research institutions are knowledge-based social entities where knowledge is generated, developed, adapted and disseminated. Government policy makers, industry leaders and the general public benefit from the continuum of knowledge creation through scientific research. Knowledge is shared through conferences, journals, institutional archives and other forms of scholarly communication. Pursuing the traditional scholarly communication model in Ethiopia cannot and will not be able to address the present needs of the country.

The Government has embarked on a massive expansion of public universities and the number of student intakes is increasing year by year. Postgraduate education (both at the Masters and PhD levels) is on the rise, industries are booming, research institutions are being instituted and their number is growing steadily and yet the scholarly communication outlets are very limited and out of date.

Researchers within and outside Ethiopia need to access research work that has been done in Ethiopia. However, with few exceptions such as the AAU’s ETD, there are no institutional repositories, electronic journals, and even websites to provide such services. Embracing open access models could help to revamp the current print-based and limited distribution model. Institutions such as Addis Ababa University should overhaul their research dissemination system. They need to recognize that Ethiopian research is hardly visible, not only to people elsewhere in the world but even to Ethiopian policy makers, scholars, students and industry leaders. As pointed out by Swan (2007) developing countries are hard-hit by the subscription-based scholarly communication model, as researchers in these countries cannot simply afford to pay for access. While open access has become a talking point for many researchers and librarians in the developed world and has been embraced by even wealthy institutions such as Harvard, when they recognized that they could not afford to subscribe to the ever increasing number of journals, developing countries are slow in up-taking such initiatives. It is therefore essential for countries like Ethiopia to design open access strategies that is contextualized to the needs of researchers and the demands of their stakeholders.

Yes, the Government of Ethiopia is improving its telecommunication infrastructure, albeit slowly. The SchoolNet and WoredaNet projects are aimed at connecting rural schools and administrative councils through fibre optics technologies. These are big investments to a country where resources are so meagre. Universities and research institutions should take advantage of this infrastructural development to channel content to these and other networks so that they can reach out local stakeholders including other universities, researchers, the public and industry leaders. Without such ICT infrastructure (both access to computers and Internet), open access cannot succeed. It is also apparent that in order for open access initiatives to succeed it should get government support. To implement open access and promote open access, the Ethiopian government through its Ministry of Science and Technology should develop a policy in consultation with universities, research institutions,libraries, funding agencies, and renowned researchers. The Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) should coordinate to draft the adoption of an open access policy. Lessons can be learned from South Africa and other countries who have successfully implemented open access.


The following recommendations are based on what Peter Suber suggested countries should do to promote and implement open access (Suber, 2007): (Please take note that these are top level approaches and bear in mind that librarians and researchers play a crucial role to make this happen by promoting and persuading decision makers).

  • The Ethiopian government should put a condition on government research grants that anyone who accepts aresearch grant should agree to provide an open access to the research results (reports);
  • Permit recipients of government research grants to use grant funds to pay the processing fees charged by OA journals: when research grants are offered to researchers, the grant should include money for publication of the research results in author-pays open access journals so that anyone can access and use it freely and openly;
  • Annual government budgets for Ethiopian universities and research institutions should include budget lines for setting up institutional repositories so that hardware, software, training and maintenance costs can be covered;
  • Ethiopian research and cultural heritage is not yet digitized. Government should therefore initiate national digitization projects. The Ethiopia Information and Communication Technology Development Agency (ICTDA) should take the responsibility of such digitization initiatives. The agency should work with libraries and ICT centers of universities and research institutions so that the agency would oversee digitization projects, support such effort with government funding, help in providing digitization standards and help avoid duplication of digitization efforts;
  • Ethiopian universities and research institutions should include in their contract for employment that any research work conducted by salaried staff members should make it open access;
  • The Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Technology in collaboration with universities, research institutions and other responsible government bodies should work to develop a national open access repository of research. Such online service should be able to harvest those repositories which are located elsewhere in the country and provide a single search interface to browse and search for content from those repositories;
  • The Ministry of Science and Technology should mandate the deposit of a copy of the research conducted through its Local Research Grant (LRG) to institutional archives of the researchers. The ministry should also develop a national science and technology repository which can be accessible freely to everyone through an open access license;
  • The Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Technology should sign the Berlin declaration so that public funded research becomes open access and Ethiopia abides by such international statements of action. This will help invigorate national open access efforts. Signing such declarations will also help to coordinate efforts at a regional and international level;
  • As the oldest and biggest higher learning institution in the country, Addis Ababa University, should coordinate efforts throughout the country by organizing open access workshops and trainings and also by offering technical support to set up institutional repositories;
  • Once institutional repositories are in place, academic and research institutions should take acarrot and stick approach to reward those who deposit or self-archive their work and penalize those who fail to do so.
Ethiopian universities produce significant amount of research work. Nonetheless, the dissemination system is still very low. Unfortunately, this problem waited for so long un-addressed.The advice now is rather simple: adopt open access scholarly communication models.That is how we can ensure that Ethiopian research work is accessed, debated and validated. That is how we can ensure Ethiopian researchers become visible. Build institutional repositories atleast in every university and major research organization. Realizing this in the very near future is in fact easier said than done. It demands concerted effort of librarians, IT experts, researchers, managers and funding agencies. Above all, open access should be approached as a double edge sword: it improves access to research done elsewhere and enables researchers publish their works. Ethiopia should not miss this golden opportunity to leapfrog the knowledge divide that has persisted for so long.


Author’s note: The above document is extracted from research by Getaneh Agegn Alemu (2009), “The Role of Open Access in Fostering Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration in Ethiopia: a case study”, master thesis, http://etdindividuals.dlib.vt.edu:9090/432/1/THESIS_GETANEH_AGEGN_ALEMU_OPEN_ACCESS_TALLINN_UNIVERSITY_JUNE_2009.pdf


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