Berlin 10 Conference set to make knowledge accessible to Africa
In a breakthrough for Africa, the 10th annual Berlin Open Access Conference will be taking place on the continent for the first time later this year, with Stellenbosch University (SU) as host.
The prestigious gathering will be taking place at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) from 7 to 8 November. It will be preceded by a preconference on the practical implementation of open access principles on 6 November.
“Researchers and academics from across the continent will benefit from this conference, which will further open doors to increased access to research information. Several research and academic institutions in Africa and other developing countries simply cannot afford the high costs of access to academic information,” says Ms Ellen Tise, Senior Director of SU’s Library and Information Service.
“Open access offers an alternative to the traditional publications process by making use of the internet to provide unimpeded access to scientific information.”
The Berlin Open Access Conference is an annual project of the Max Planck Institute of Germany, where the first gathering took place in 2003. At the time, the Institute and European Cultural Heritage Online brought together a group of international experts with the aim of implementing a new internet-based research environment through the application of open access principles in order to make scientific knowledge and cultural heritage freely accessible.
The outcome of the meeting was the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, which has since been signed by many scientific, research and cultural institutions the world over.
In October 2010, SU became the first institution in Africa to sign the Declaration. Among the 300 other signatories are the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), the Chinese Academy of Science, Academia Europea, Harvard University and the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA).
At the time, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Russel Botman said the University supported open access as part of its HOPE Project because “we want our research to be useful in addressing major societal challenges.”
To host the Berlin Open Access Conference is regarded as an honour, and SU joins hands with a number of important partners, including the Academy of Science for South Africa (ASSAf), the World Bank, UNESCO, as well as the Association of Africa Universities (AAU) to ensure that the conference meets the highest standards and obtains its goals.
“The theme this year, ‘Networked scholarship in a networked world: Participation in Open Access’, addresses access to scientific knowledge for African countries,” says Ms Tise.
“The Conference offers a unique opportunity for African institutions and organisations to fully engage in discussions about improved publication models and the use of network infrastructure to promote science. A number of sponsorships make it possible for delegates from African countries to attend the Conference,” she adds.
Some of the prominent speakers at the Berlin 10 Open Access Conference include Mr Derek Hanekom, Deputy Minister: Science and Technology (SA); Madame Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, European Union (Belgium), Mr Cyril Muller, Vice-President: External Affairs, World Bank (USA); Ms Silvia Nakano, Department of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation (Argentina); Prof Bernard Schutz, Director: Max Planck Institute (Germany); Prof Tom Cochrane, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Technology, Information and Learning Support, Queensland University of Technology (Australia); and Dr Bernie Fanaroff, Project Director: Square Kilometre Array (SA).
Prof Arnold van Zyl, former Vice-Rector (Research) of SU and now Rector of Chemnitz Technical University in Germany, will present a lecture on global science.
On-line registration for the conference is already open (follow link to home page below). It is expected that about 200 delegates from a number of countries will attend the conference.
In the run-up to Conference, SU is hosting three webinars. The first webinar took place on 31 July, under the title “What is open access?” The second webinar will provide background information on the Berlin Conference Series, and the theme of the third one is “Open access projects in Africa”.
During the past few years, SU has made great progress in terms of open access. The digital research repository SUNScholar, which is used to digitally store theses, dissertations, research articles and so forth, has grown significantly. It already contains more than 14 000 records. Open access journals are published on SUNJournals, and to date there are 15 titles. The SUNConferences platform is an on-line system for dealing with conference papers. It is intensively used by the Faculty of Engineering to manage papers for the Computers and Industrial Engineering 42 Conference. And an open access fund to support researchers who want to publish in open access journals has also been established.
According to Ina Smith, Manager of SUNScholar, the Berlin 10 Open Access Conference offers a unique opportunity to promote open access among researchers.
“The open access movement encourages researchers to publish in open forums. It helps to enhance the visibility of research. This increases citations, which enhances the profile of both the researcher and his or her university. The research is freely available and scientific advancement and production is enhanced.”
She adds: “In the traditional model, the author loses ownership of his output, he cannot re-use his information and it is only available to other researchers at high cost.”
Smith emphasises that articles that are available through open access is not of lesser quality.
“It is subjected to the same academic and research standards as any other academic paper and is also subjected to peer review.” – STEPHANIE NIEUWOUDT