How is the research and/or publishing environment characterized?


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December 14, 2020

Sulaiman Adebowale: Throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century, the acceptance or reluctance of the scholarly publishing industry to embrace OA was the search for not just where they fit in the new ecosystem but how to engage and adapt their processes with or without varying levels of impacts on them as actors. Inevitably, we did not all see things in the same view. The established giant publishers up North saw it differently from the young upstarts around them; the South looked at it differently; the journals and monographs, social sciences and STM differently.... In the last decade, we have seen a kind of acceptance with each actor in the ecosystem concluding what's best for them and working or running with it. This understanding and acceptance has led to tremendous growth in the sector, in some parts of the world even reaching a plateau. In others it has barely started. The sector is not unlike other sectors in the global economy. Interconnectedness and similarity is marked by acute differences and disparities coexisting harmoniously and otherwise within the ethos of an ecosystem peculiar to the world of globalisation. Inevitably, the question is where we on the African continent and other parts of the globe are on the issue. How do initiatives such as cOAlition S address issues in scholarly publishing so we are not cut off from access to research and knowledge to further our development and lives?

Angela Okune's picture
April 30, 2020

AO: Angela Mumo points out that the researchers she works with are frustrated by the funding gap they experience between them and their counterparts in the global North.

Angela Mumo 40:57

"...the researchers kind of get frustrated. And that's why they go to the journals to publish in the journals that are outside Africa. And actually, the biggest problem is funding. African researchers are not funded. And they feel frustrated. They do their research with their own funds. And research is very expensive. So to me, in Africa, we are looking at a continent that is frustrated in terms of research funding. The universities have very little support to the researchers in terms of funding. So they kind of feel frustrated and when they do their own research, they go out there. Look for journals that can publish their work. I know African researchers have no problem with open access. Because at the end of the day they want their research accessed. But doing that research is very expensive. So I know if there can be a structured way of supporting African researchers, they can and they start their own journals...platforms where the African local content can be hosted. I think the issue of commercial will not come to their thinking. It is just out of you find you're doing a lot of research and nobody is recognizing what you are doing. And most of the time, you are just doing it to gain your promotion and after that, that is the end of it. So we feel there is a gap between us and the West. And that gap is in funding. The research is there, the researchers are there, but the support is very minimal."

Angela Okune's picture
April 21, 2020

In this interview, Adebowale mentions NGOs becoming an alternative space for African scholars to do research and produce knowledge because of the state disinvestment in education and resulting crises in African higher education from the mid-1980s and 1990s. 

He notes: "Although the situation in some African universities has improved in the last ten years after a series of massive donor-funded initiatives in the higher education sector, material from NGOs is still significant."

This echoes Eve Gray's point that there are significant, diverse, and relevant bodies of work being published across Africa that are happening outside of the academy and outside of academic journal publishing.

Angela Okune's picture
April 16, 2020

Ruth Oniang'o describes why she started the Nairobi-based journal AJFAND and the funding challenge which the journal continues to face even after nearly 20 years of being operational.

"I started this realizing that personally, I had difficulty publishing, I always wanted to, I've always loved editing and sharing information. And I guess I realized that I had difficulty publishing or even when I did, it didn't matter. I mean, what impact was it having on anyone? So when I was at the university, there was money, I was put on the editorial board and investors provided funding to start the journal, but there were no manuscripts. People still wanted to go for the international, peer-reviewed, well-recognized journals, you know? My own area is food science and nutrition. So as soon as I got my full professorship and I left, I said, I'm going to start a journal. ... So the biggest challenge and even up to now has been how to get funding. ... We are published by a Trust so we would like to turn that into a private company to try and generate resources. [Now] we have more manuscripts than we can handle. 300 [inaudible] and yet we put out six issues minimum per year. So there's a lot out there that people want to, to share in their own particular [the journal] serves a need, fills a gap of my African colleagues who want to publish and the universities that we serve still have the motto of either publish or perish. So the challenge then was getting these to be indexed. You know, internationally. We may be addressing African local issues, but we still have to be seen to be competing internationally. That was a challenge and it took us a while before we got into Scopus. And it took a while before even South Africa scholars could publish with us because they kept saying, "where are you indexed? Where are you indexed?" You know? But at least now they have put us in their system. So we are now getting manuscripts from South Africa, so the challenge then became how do we raise funding. Personally I don't get paid in fact I feel I benefit more from it, because it keeps my mind going. I find it very exciting, but I have to run a system that you know that compensates those that help me to run this. So we started to charge authors. We don't charge a whole lot because none of us academics don't earn a lot," (23:14).

Angela Okune's picture
April 16, 2020

Angela Okune: Sulaiman Adebowale notes the challenge of ensuring a journal's sustainability and thinks aloud about different ways that could be possible:

"Ruth had mentioned that she was working towards setting up a private company so that the journal [AJFAND] will be able to sustain itself and continue publishing the journal. ... If a model like Plan S can get funding for the journal, would that be an incentive for you not to go commercial on your own?" (31:35)

As a publisher himself in Senegal, he noted that "one of the questions I wanted to tackle when I started my publishing program, and one of the things I saw clearly was that I could see a lot of journals being published by academics and authors on the continent. But I could see them publishing those journals, not very well, badly. And I could see, I could see they are repeating almost the same problem even some commercial publishers were facing regarding how to publish journals."

"If it's difficult for northern academics to publish their own journals, what would make it easier for academics in the South to be able to publish their own journals? How would they survive? Shouldn't they be looking at commercial local publishers to help them out? There are commercial local publishers out there now that must have had experiences in that area, what must have been a reason or led to a situation where they academics didn't look at that. And now so if the area of funding can be taken care of, and then the journal editors can focus on creating the content and submitting the content to the commercial because that's exactly what we are doing with nearly all the academic journals being published by commercial publishers out of Africa. Basically, the editors are set up basically working on the journal and submitting it to the commercial Northern publisher to publish, basically. So the same quality of work could be sent to a commercial publisher locally to publish, and also be able to boost publishing development on the continent as well. And this collaboration is possible with local publishers," (31:35).

April 9, 2020

Kate Meagher: An important clarifying point to raise about the current Plan S is that while it pushes for making journals open access, it is based on an author-pay article processing charge (APC) model. That means that those with research funding can get the funders to finance the publication charges, but those without funding will face charges of £2,000 plus. Given the lack of research funding available to support African researchers, as noted by many of the discussion participants, the APC model would affect the ability of under-funded African researchers to publish in such open access journals.  Plan S would give them greater access to read journals, but less ability to publish in them, turning African researchers into consumers rather than producers of research -- a bit like a research version of dependent economies.

Angela Okune's picture
April 9, 2020

AO: In this quote, Eve mentions an increased trend of development research being published widely outside of the traditional academic journal format in South Africa, very successfully reaching quite big audiences. She found it to be a loss that such publications are often marginalized due to an excessive focus on journal publishing and impact factor journals.

After the discussion, she emailed me this example of such development research being published outside of the academic journal. In her email she notes that while the article is not conventionally peer reviewed research, the content is very timely and addresses an issue that is of urgent importance in the country right nowembodying what she sees as a central component of the South African research environment, "bringing research focused on critical national issues to the forefront, when they are needed, and in accessible formats."


Eve Gray 50:23
Could I just put something in there? Because what occurred to me while you were talking is we keep on talking about journals. What is published hugely, I don't know if it's the same in Kenya, Angela, but in South Africa, there are now a lot of publishers publishing development research very professionally, very successfully reaching quite big audiences. And we tend to ignore them because they're not journals. But I wonder if we fed that into a Plan S kind of plan if we might not get something very powerful. So if you have journals, and you have development focused research, both supported rather than just the journals supported. I wonder, I mean, it's only going through my head now, I'll think about it.