THE DEBACLE OF POOR OPEN-ACCESS ADOPTION BY NIGERIAN INSTITUTIONS
Okoli, Ifeanyi Charles
Being a paper presented at the online Eko-Konnect 2023 Users Conference on Promoting Nigerian Research with Open Science, 24 - 26 January 2023
I am grateful to the organizers of this very important event for the invitation extended to me to share my thoughts on open-access publishing and adoption in Nigeria. I believe that this is a very important topic, not just for the scientists, researchers, and students, but also for the higher education institution administrators, librarians, and policymakers in the country. This is because the present global knowledge economy is based on a system of consumption and production of intellectual capital and by extension involves the commercialization of science and academic scholarship. It has been said that "He that owns the science owns the world". If this is true, it means that we must own every level of our science to own our world.
In 2021, there were 170 Universities in Nigeria, made up of 43 federal, 48 states, and 79 private universities. Added to these are 152 Colleges of Education, consisting of 27 federal, 54 state, and 82 private. There are also other accredited higher education institutions in the country such as 173 Polytechnics offering National Diploma and Higher National Diploma programs and made up of 40 federal, 49 state and 84 private Other approved and accredited institutions include, 54 Specialized Institutions, 35 Colleges of Agriculture, 88 Colleges of Health Sciences (70 government and 18 private), 123 Technical Colleges, 7 Vocational Enterprise Institutions and 12 Innovation Enterprise Institutes. There are also 69 notable Research Institutes located in different parts of the country. These institutions produce large quantities of scholarly research materials each year, but these are rarely shared between local and international experts due to the conservative knowledge-sharing approaches adopted by these institutions that do not promote the integration of local research outputs into the global research dynamics. This poor scholarly information sharing is common to most African countries and has resulted in the very poor visibility of Africa in the global research development map. At the local level, such poor knowledge sharing engenders high duplicity of earlier research and results in the wastage of limited research resources.
The global open access initiatives and movement that began in the 1990s and sustained through the 2020s have offered a golden opportunity for scholarly research outputs from Africa to become integrated into the global research development map. It would seem however that most Nigerian higher education institutions have failed to adequately utilize this opportunity thereby continuing to perpetuate the poor visibility of their research outputs and poor access to global scholarly information. Although, some positive efforts such as the Research4life initiative of international organizations and the establishment of institutional repositories have been made by some of the educational institutions, much remains to be done and will require the education, conversion, and recruitment of higher education institution administrators, librarians, and policymakers into the open access movement.
This presentation is divided into six sections as follows;
1. Historical overview of Open-Access publishing
2. Open Access movement in Africa/Nigeria
3. Factors affecting Open Access adoption in Nigeria
4. Implications of poor Open-Access adoption in Nigeria
5. Functional Open Access Models for Nigeria/Africa
6. Conclusion and Recommendations
Historical overview of Open-Access Publishing
The open-access movement began in the 1990s as a result of the calls by several stakeholders in the knowledge industry to make online publications immediately available without charge and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. The open-access movement acknowledges that information is an important resource for change in a knowledge-based economy. It reasons that if researchers are willing to publish their work for free, then the public should be allowed to access these works for free. The two major strategies for achieving open access have been self-archiving (Green open-access) and open-access journals (Gold open-access). The two major early events that midwifed the movement were the Budapest Open-Access Initiative of 2001 and the Berlin Declaration on Open-Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities of 2003. Other early adopters of the open-access model include the Open Society Institute (later Open Society Foundation) in America, SciElo in Brazil which presently has 13 other countries as members, the Public Knowledge Project, and BioMed Central.
In 2001 The Public Library of Science (PLoS) was established as an alternative to traditional publishing after an online campaign that generated 34,000 signatures from scientists to pledge that they will discontinue submission of papers to journals that fail to make published full-text available to all. The Budapest Open-Access Initiative in 2012 set the goal of open-access becoming the default method for distributing new peer-reviewed research in every field and country within the next 10 years. The movement received strong support from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) as an essential element of progress in the distribution of literary resources. These supports gave birth to the Research4Life Group which provides institutions in low and middle-income countries with online access to academic and professional peer-reviewed content, to improve the teaching, research, and policy making in health, agriculture, the environment, and other life, physical and social sciences in those countries. In 2021 alone, Research4Life offered 132,000 leading journals and books in the fields of health, agriculture, environment, applied sciences, and legal information to the benefiting countries. The members of the group include;
HINARI- Biomedical and health literature
AGORA- Food and agriculture digital library collection
AGDI- Science and technical information
GOALI- Law and social sciences information
OARE- Information resources on environment
Open Access in Africa/Nigeria
Through its activities, the Researche4Life group has played a vital role in the open-access movement in the global south. Apart from these efforts and those of individual African scientists to key into the movement, the series of Open-Access Africa events organized by BioMed Central (BMC) Germany, brought the open access movement closer to the African/Nigerian researchers. The events were organized in Nairobi, Kenya in 2010 for east African researchers, Kumasi, Ghana, in 2011 for West Africa, and Cape Town, South Africa in 2012 and held back to back with the Berlin 10 Open Meeting at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. The major highlights of the concluding meetings were;
l A strong condemnation of the use of impact factors in the assessment of individual researchers
l The value of African journals in publishing African research results was emphasized
l An observation was made that African researchers do not have access to research publications on African problems (For example, 90 percent of malaria articles are published in pay-walled global north-based journals).
l The negative effects of article processing charge (APC) waivers by open-access publishers in the global north on the survival of African journals were highlighted.
Factors Affecting Open Access Adoption in Nigeria
The present realities in most higher education institutions in Nigeria tend to suggest a disconnect with the realities of the global knowledge-based economy, especially what should be done to advance the distribution, visibility, and access to intellectual capital to the advantage of the country. Higher education administrators and librarians continue to favor and advance policies that promote;
l Publishing in the so-called high-impact factor journals
l The use of parochial indexing and abstracting services as metrics for the assessment of journal quality, especially during the promotion of staff.
l Downgrading of journals published by national organizations, even when these journals are longstanding and regular.
The major reasons for these policies include;
l The need for high global and institutional ranking (indicating a lack of appropriate understanding of how the rankings are achieved)
l Pursuit of funding from granting institutions in the global north (requires publishing in high-impact journals)
l Poor grasp of the big picture about scholarly publishing and ownership of scholarly outputs
There is indeed very low open access adoption in most Nigerian higher education institutions as evidenced by a lack of national or institutional policies on open-access publishing and scoring. Similarly, journals in high quality open access indexing services such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) are often excluded from the list of high impact journals. Again, most educational institution administrators and librarians in Nigeria remain highly conservative and are therefore poorly informed about recent developments in journal publishing, open access, and how the knowledge-based economies run.
At the journal publishing level, several factors have also impeded the adoption of open-access publishing. These may include;
Ø A lack of infrastructural facilities such as electricity supply, internet broadband, computers, and other logistics which are needed to establish robust open-access publishing platforms. These infrastructures are the engine on which knowledge-based economies run, and their presence enables a nation to maximize the benefits of the new economy.
Ø The scarcity or lack of skilled information technology (IT) manpower needed to manage and maintain such platforms are also major problems.
Ø The poor article assessment scores assigned to papers published in open-access journals during academic promotion excises due to discriminatory policies also discourage researchers from submitting articles to both local and offshore open-access journals.
Other major constraints include the very high APCs being charged by the Open Access publishing journals in the global north and recently some African and Asian journals. Again, there has been a general tendency by global north organizations to brand most open-access journals as predatory journals. An example is Beall's list of potential predatory journals/publishers that listed IntechOpen and the Frontiers journals among others as predatory journals. Although the list was withdrawn in 2017, several new lists and publications in predatory journals continue to be based on the contents of Beall's list.
Implications of Poor Open-Access Adoption in Nigeria
The poor adoption of open-access publishing by Nigerian institutions has several implications for the knowledge-based economy of the country, which may include;
ü The continued patronage of the traditional pay-walled journals by serious researchers in the country resulted in poor visibility of the papers in their research constituency.
ü Some of the high-impact journals have adopted the hybrid model which offers the option of both open access and the traditional publishing method. Since most Nigerian researchers may not be able to pay the exorbitant APCs by these journals, they are forced to continue patronizing the traditional method.
ü Since the high-impact factor journals derive their quality and prestige from article citations, it implies that the editors of these journals may dictate the type of research done by researchers. To publish in these journals, researchers from the global south may be forced to carry out studies that are of limited relevance to their research environment.
ü Intellectual capital from the country is continually being lost to other countries that can curate, aggregate, index, and archive such knowledge resources.
ü Nigerian researchers are relegated to the position of mere consumers and limited producers of open-access publications because of high APCs.
Functional Open Access Models for Nigeria/Africa
The provision of aid and support such as those provided by the Research4Life group to low and middle-income countries while commendable cannot solve the problem of poor open-access adoption in Nigeria and other African countries. It will rather require looking inward and developing credible open-access publishing and indexing platforms on the continent. This could be achieved by embracing and cultivating suitable open access strategies (Green open access) such as institutional repositories, and others like ResearchGate and Google Scholar to harness and maximize their benefits.
Institutional repositories: These operate on the bases of the willingness of the individual author to make available their work in a repository maintained by an institution of higher learning. Such deposits of research outputs in institutional repositories will translate to connections with global libraries and therefore access to hitherto restricted peer-reviewed literature while serving as a platform through which local research outputs can be shared with the rest of the world. This institutional archival model approach to open access should therefore provide global visibility for Nigerian research outputs when operated professionally.
ResearchGate: ResearchGate (RG) is a German commercial academic profile and social networking site for scientists and researchers for sharing papers, asking questions, and finding collaborators. The site was launched in 2008 and has more than 17 million users by 2020. RG is uniquely suited for researchers in the global south and Africa in particular since members can upload research outputs such as full journal articles, conference proceedings, data, and book chapters on their web page. Other items such as negative results, patents, research proposals, and software source codes can also be uploaded on the site. RG has become the major open-source platform for sharing articles published in remote African journals, thereby giving them global visibility. Many researchers and scientists upload PDFs of their articles on RG thereby making it a source of free scholarly articles, which are often indexed by Google Scholar. Both the uploaded articles, individual members of the social network, and their affiliated institutions, over time receive robust metrics such as the number of reads, number of citations, h-index, and research interest in their works. Therefore, RG in a very unique way is serving as a major open source for scholarly information from the global south and Africa.
Google Scholar: Google Scholar is a freely accessible web search engine that indexes the full text or metadata of scholarly literature. It provides worldwide visibility and accessibility to scholarly information, and indexes peer-reviewed papers, theses, preprints, abstracts, and technical reports from all disciplines. It also makes scholarly information searchable on Google and Google Scholar. Again, Google Scholar has enriched African research in several ways such as making articles published in remote African journals globally visible. The citations, h-index, and i10-index of these articles are subsequently calculated for the individual researcher and their affiliated institutions. Similar to ResearchGate, Google Scholar is also able to display the detailed citation for each article thereby serving as a link to similar literature. It has therefore become a major source of scholarly literature for both researchers and students in the global south.
Why ResearchGate and Google Scholar? In January 2022 global estimate of scholarly citation data showed that both ResearchGate and Google Scholar had statistically significantly higher citations than both Scopus and Web of Science. Google Scholar however recorded more citations for individual journals than ResearchGate.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Nigeria has not benefited fully from the relative successes of the open-access movement in removing the barriers that hinder access to scholarly information and providing platforms for free online access. Several factors such as lack of national and institutional policies, misconception about open access, and poor IT infrastructures have however hindered the adoption of open access in Nigeria. While international initiatives such as Research4Life have played critical roles in making scholarly information available to low-income countries like Nigeria, there is a need to look inwards and develop credible open-access platforms such as institutional repositories, journal publishing, and indexing services in the country.
It is therefore recommended that;
ü Both national and institutional open-access policies should be developed for the country.
ü Functional national and institutional repositories developed in the country be integrated into the global open-access dynamics, and backed by a policy that mandates the deposition of all research outputs in these repositories.
ü Educational institutions should lay less emphasis on the use of high-impact factor journals in assessing individual researchers.
ü Interested entrepreneurs including academics should come together to midwife African open access publishing, indexing, and academic profile and social networking platforms.
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