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Africa is a leader in open access—but gets little credit for it


Proportion of freely available research in Africa exceeds that in Europe and North America

African countries have been leading the open access publishing movement but have received little recognition for it from the international community, an Australian open access scholar has said.

Cameron Neylon, professor of research communications at the Centre for Culture and Technology at Curtin University, made the remarks during an Academy of Science of South Africa webinar as part of its Open Access Week on 20 October. 

Neylon, who helped draft ASSAf’s 2016 position paper on open science, said that African researchers showed high levels of open access publishing as a percentage of total publications, outperforming many countries in Europe and North America. 

Neylon and colleagues published a study in September that found many African universities published 40-60 per cent in fully open access journals, compared to 20-40 per cent in Europe, and 15-25 per cent in North America. 

“This leadership has existed over a very long period of time,” Neylon told the webinar.

But Africa’s leadership in this respect has not received attention because much of it is published in journals that are not indexed on international publication databases such as Scopus. Like an iceberg, he said, the bulk of Africa’s research is not visible to most people. 

African journals also continue to be less visible and appear less prestigious than others because there is still pressure on African researchers to publish in Western and Global North journals with high citation numbers, he added.

Neylon said African countries should boost their funding for open access repositories and other open-access mechanisms in order to boost the visibility of their researchers. “If you wait for Northern publishers to do anything else but lip service for the rest of the world [outside of North America and Europe] you are going to wait for a long time,” he said.