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Open access and research capacity building in French-speaking African universities
OPEN ACCESS AND RESEARCH
CAPACITY BUILDING IN FRENCH-
SPEAKING AFRICAN UNIVERSITIES
CSPC CONFERENCE, OTTAWA, NOVEMBER 2015
FRENCH-SPEAKING AFRICAN SCIENCE : NON
EXISTENT OR INVISIBLE?
This famous picture has 2 meanings :
- There is no science in Africa or outside
the US and Europe
- Science outside the US and Europe
is invisible to the North (Web of science)
Invisibility of (scientific and local) knowledges = uselessness of knowledges
especially for development or empowerment
This is a symptom of COGNITIVE INJUSTICE
SOHA : A RESEARCH-ACTION PROJECT IN 12
AFRICAN COUNTRIES AND HAITI
Our hypothesis : Open and collaborative science (open access to
scientific publications, open access journals, open archives, data and
bibliographies sharing, public engagement with civil society, citizen
science, science shops) can become a major tool of empowerment for
developing countries because:
- Not only does it facilitates access to science by students,
researchers, public officials, teachers, etc. and among civil society.
- But it also makes local knowledge and science produced in the
Global South more visible and accessible, thus contributing to
more cognitive justice.
- Therefore, it could empower local universities and contributes to
reinforcing their research capacity.
RESEARCH QUESTION AND METHODOLOGY
What are the concrete barriers to the adoption of open and collaborative
science by graduate students in African and Haitian universities? How
could we overcome these barriers?
• Survey of graduate students in Africa and Haiti (550 answers from 19
countries, 26% female, 46% Master students, 16% PhD students) –
not yet analysed / participant observation
• Local production of training tools in open science (videos, blog, online
• Virtual discussion groups about science shops and open archives
• Building of a network of local open science leaders
• Training in open science software (through skype)
• Daily teaching through Facebook (unexpected)
FRENCH-SPEAKING AFRICAN UNIVERSITIES
Many well-known problems…
• Increasing number of students, not enough resources (7
professors for 200 PhD students in Ouagadougou)
• Insufficient salaries and workspaces
• Unstable access to the web for professors, no access for students
• Governance obsessed with status and diplomas, not with creating
« developmental universities»
… which are the obstacles to research capabilities in Africa.
Can open access help remove some of these obstacles and
contribute to building local research capacity?
OPEN ACCESS TO SCIENTIFIC TEXTS
= ACCESS WITHOUT FINANCIAL BARRIERS
NOR PASSWORDS TO SCIENCE TEXTS
THROUGH COMPUTERS AND INTERNET
It could and does:
• help African students do exhaustive and up to date literature
• help African researchers learn quickly about new results in their
• help African professors give up-to-date and well-informed
TWO ROADS FOR OPEN ACCESS TO
SCIENTIFIC TEXTS :
• Gold Road: Open access through open access journals
• + : gives access to scientific articles
• - : does not change anything with regards to cognitive
injustice (since the system remains centered on the North)
• Green Road : Open access through articles deposited in online
institutional repositories (manged by university librairies) or
• + : gives access to scientific articles
• + : could allow African universities to put their own scientific
production on the web = potential for more cognitive
OPEN ACCESS IS UNKNOWN IN FS AFRICA
- Computers are still rather new in academic contexts
- Students and professors are afraid of making mistakes, of viruses, of
losing data, etc. Some are only using computers as typewriters.
- They are unaware of web software and very puzzled by security
protocols (passwords, validation, captcha).
- They are seldom aware of open source software, but know how to
hack MS Office
- They do not use collaborative software and rarely use Facebook as
a scientific resource
- They don’t know about open access repositories and platforms.
BUT WHEN THEY UNDERSTAND, THEY ARE VERY QUICK TO LEARN!
POWER RELATIONS IN UNIVERSITIES
• Some students would like things to change in their universities,
including better access to Internet and to scientific resources on
• Hierarchy and power relationships prevent them from making
suggestions to their professors : they are afraid of being rebuked
• Bureaucracy discourages them from innovating
Therefore, our team got interested in French-speaking African
professors’ relationship to open access.
(Observations from fieldwork)
AFRICAN PROFESSORS AND OPEN ACCESS
• « Open access facilitates plagiarism »
• « What is not printed has no value »
• « What one finds on the web cannot be science, it is junk »
More complicated, but also easy to respond to:
• « Open access journals are of inferior quality because they are not peer-
More complex, a real difficulty:
• The professional career of a French-speaking African professor depends on
decisions by CAMES : African and Malagasy Council for Higher Learning.
• Many members of CAMES boards share the views above. They discard open
access journals and consider « Impact Factor » the sole guarantee of
• They also discard collaborative work (a co-author gets only one point, a sole
author gets 2 points)
• They are unaware of altmetrics.
THEN WE DISCOVERED NEW BARRIERS
CREATED BY OPEN ACCESS
ARTICLE PROCESSING CHARGE DEMANDED FROM
AUTHORS BY 25% OF OPEN ACCESS JOURNALS
THIS IS A NEW BARRIER, A NEW FORM OF COGNITIVE INJUSTICE :
Open access to readers, but closed access to authors : not very good
for research capacity development.
- French-speaking African researchers are totally unable to pay $2500
APCs to publish in an Elsevier journal! And in English moreover, which
won’t be understood by their students and fellow citizens : expensive
- Waivers are arbitrary, could appear and disappear
- Promoting APCs as an open access road is tantamount to once again
forgetting about African researchers’ working conditions.
- Researchers from the North who want to fight cognitive injustice should
give up on all journals demanding APCs / false open access.
CLOSED ACCESS IN DISGUISE OF OPEN
• Research4life (HINARI, AGORA, OARE et ARDI) is a
program by publishers from the North offering open access
to some of their journals in universities from the South.
But it not open access since universities have to register to be
able to receive passwords. The password changes so often that
a university library lost it and no one had access to the data
• This program is not sustainable : publishers could choose to
stop it anytime
• This program does not encourage local librarians to develop
local repositories and open archive or to create new local
journals. Therefore it perpetuates cognitive injustice.
SOHA TEAM IN ACTION FOR MORE COGNITIVE
JUSTICE THROUGH LOCAL RESEARCH CAPACITY
• Work with CAMES to help build a pan-African open archive
• Work with African professors helping them to put their journal on
the web and in open access though open sourceware
• Working groups on distance learning, open source software, blog
writing, wikipedia contribution, collaborative writing, etc.
• Empowering young leaders in open science
• Open access activism in the North
• Open eLetter on Sustainable Development Goals, Research and