Monday, November 11, 2019

Ethiopia adopts open access policy

By Esther Nakkazi

Ethiopia has adopted a national policy that mandates all universities and research institutes that receive public funding to make open access. This is expected to transform research and education in Ethiopia’s higher institutions of learning.

Open access builds a knowledge community and allows researchers and research institutions that cannot afford subscription fees to access scientific journals.

The Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Ethiopia (MOSHE) adopted the new national open access policy in September this year and it came into effect immediately.

“Our universities and libraries will have to adapt quickly to comply with the new policy. Each university will have to develop an open access policy to suit its own institutional context, and which is also aligned with the national policy,” blogged Dr. Solomon Mekonnen Tekle, a librarian at Addis Ababa University Library, and EIFL Open Access Coordinator in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia an Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL) partner country also will benefit from the new agreement ( signed 28 October 2019) signed between EIFL with the academic publisher De Gruyter valid until December 2021, which covers open access publishing and free and discounted access to its (De Gruyter) ’s content.

De Gruyter offers authors from EIFL partner countries the option of publishing their articles in open access for free or at discounted Article Processing Charges (APCs) in its over 440 fully open access and hybrid journals.

Other EIFL countries include Cambodia, Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lesotho, Malawi, Maldives, Moldova, Myanmar, Nepal, North Macedonia, Palestine, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Ethiopia’s new national open access policy requires that all published articles, theses, dissertations and data from research conducted by staff and students at the 47 universities that are publicly funded through the MOSHE be open access.

Dr. Tekle says the new open access policy will improve the quality of researchers' work as they will easily critique each other work and it will increase the visibility of Ethiopian research, within the national and international research communities - creating equity, minimizing duplication, thereby saving costs, time and effort.

“There is a strong capacity-building component to the project to train repository managers and administrators to manage their new institutional repositories and open access journals,” said Dr. Tekle.

The policy encourages open science practices including ‘openness’ as one of the criteria for assessment and evaluation of research proposals as such researchers who receive public funding must submit their data management plans to research offices and to university libraries for approval and confirm that the data will be handled according to international FAIR data principles. (FAIR data are data that meet standards of Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, and Reusability.)

However, two months after it came into effect only three universities - Hawassa, Jimma and Arba Minch universities of the 47 universities under MOSHE have adopted the open access policy but more will comply.

Tekle says at some point the academic community was opposed to open access fearing plagiarism. However, now, ‘researchers and students come to my office in the library and ask for their research to be published in open access so that others, like potential employers, for example, can find and read it’.

However, even if Ethiopia universities have made this move there are concerns over Appointments and Promotions Committees in African universities discriminating against Open Access journal articles which are also perceived and rated lower and given fewer scores.

To date, 46 higher education institutions have signed onto the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities which came into effect in 2003 and is regarded as the milestone of open access movement.

The first African higher education institutions to sign onto it was Stellenbosch University in 2010 but more than 400 institutions worldwide have signed it. It was initiated by the Max Planck Society of Germany, promotes unrestricted access to scientific knowledge and cultural heritage.

A study done in all eight Tanzanian health sciences universities that investigated the faculty's awareness, attitudes and use of open access, and the role of information professionals in supporting open access scholarly communication found that most faculty members were aware of OA issues but did not necessarily translate into actual dissemination of faculty's research outputs through OA web avenues.

The study published in 2013 and entitled ‘Open access behaviours and perceptions of health sciences faculty and roles of information professionals’ found that senior faculty with proficient technical skills were more likely to use open access than junior faculty and the major barriers to OA usage were related to ICT infrastructure, awareness, skills, author-pay model, and copyright and plagiarism concerns.

The study leads author Dr. Edda Tandi Lwoga the directorate of Library Services, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Health Sciences said most academics used open access venues for accessing scientific works that are freely available on the web more than publishing their own research outputs.

Dr. Williams Nwagwu teaches Informetrics and other quantitative applications in Information Science at the Africa Regional Centre for Information Science (ARCIS), University of Ibadan, Nigeria said university administrators may want to increase the status and visibility of their universities through increase of senior scholars, most of whom achieve this status publishing in low-status open access journals.

Dr. Nwagwu says Africa should not look at the number of journals doing open access or quantity of papers available to address open access - which encompasses many other issues, apart from numbers.

“I acknowledge existing efforts, but there is a need for leadership, consensus building, policymaker engagement etc,” he says.

About the perceived link between 'low status' and open access, Neil Pakenham-Walsh the coordinator Healthcare Information For all (HIFA) Project said this can only be said for predatory journals, but the latter can be regarded an aberration and unrepresentative.

Pakenham-Walsh explained that it is fairly straightforward to identify high-quality open-access journals, and there is no logical reason why they should be trusted any less than subscription-based journals because editorial quality does not depend on whether a journal is restricted-access or open-access.

He argued that if academic institutions have the vision of creating and disseminating knowledge, and if the quality of content is not dependent on restricted versus open, then one might expect academic institutions to actively support open access journals rather than discriminate against them.


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