The Open Access movement appears to be gaining ground, with the oldest and largest university in Kenya, the University of Nairobi, having adopted an Open Access policy in December 2012. The need for change had been heavily emphasised by researchers who concluded that an Open Access policy would allow them the opportunity and platform to promote their academic work and enhance the visibility and impact of their research through a public archive of all scholarly materials. But what other benefits will the University gain through this Open Access policy, and why is this so significant?
By Matthew Labrooy
The Open Access movement is a reaction to traditional research and scholarly journals that use expensive pay walls and limitations. So far some of the world’s most prestigious institutions have begun implementing Open Access policies, including Stanford and Harvard Universities. However, the Open Access trend is only just beginning to gain momentum in Africa.
The University of Nairobi, which has a student population of 61,000, 1,500 teaching staff and 3,400 non-teaching staff, is not the first university in the region to implement an Open Access policy. Strathmore University previously adopted one back in 2011, as did The Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology’s (JKUAT) Senate in April 2012.
Key to the growth of the Open Access movement in Kenya is the EIFL funded project “Knowledge without boundaries: advocacy campaign in Kenya for OA and institutional repositories” which strives to promote Open Access initiatives in the region. Iryna Kuchma of EIFL explains that, in order to accomplish this, they advocated and promoted Open Access initiatives to “a range of stakeholders – policy makers and government research institutions, academic staff and researchers, students, scholarly journal editors and librarians – to enhance access to scholarships.”
The decision to introduce an Open Access policy was not something the University took lightly. They consulted their staff and sought external advice to ensure the policy accurately met the University’s requirements and that it could be successfully implemented. Various workshops were hosted by the University in the run up to the implementation of the Open Access policy, and on August 30th the University of Nairobi hosted a one-day workshop for its Management Board on Open Access and institutional repositories.
The workshop aimed to enhance awareness of Open Access initiatives and to explain how Open Access will maximise the visibility of research publications and improve the quality, impact and influence of the research conducted by the University. In addition, workshop leaders illustrated the role of Open Access in reducing plagiarism. Participants included principals, heads of departments, policy makers and respected university administrators from both Nairobi and abroad.
Many of those involved in the implementation of the Open Access policy also took part in several local projects that focused on rewarding the sharing of research and distributing findings to a wider audience. As researchers they felt that an open publishing model was important for the advancement of human knowledge and that anything else was both inefficient and incompatible with the basic principles of open scientific communication. Furthermore, they were deeply concerned that the publication of their academic work should be about achieving the widest possible scientific audience without limiting access to the research.
To read the full Open Access policy text, please click here.