Making research more relevant to the world
Open access is a powerful solution to the barriers that researchers in developing and transition countries face.

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Open access is a powerful solution to the barriers that researchers in developing and transition countries face trying to access and share critical research that can improve people’s lives.

"A lot of research has been undertaken over the years in Uganda and many seeming breakthroughs arrived at, however these have not been disseminated and subsequently have not added value to the lives of Ugandans," said Dr. J. C. Muyingo, Minister of State-Higher Education in Uganda.

This revealing statement was made at the very first national open access conference in Uganda, which EIFL co-hosted with the Consortium of Uganda University Libraries (CUUL).

At the time, Dr. Muyingo called upon the National Council for Higher Education and Makerere University to put in place a system that ensures that all publicly funded research becomes freely and openly available – asserting that Ugandan academia cannot afford to be left behind.

He encouraged researchers to publish in open access journals, and institutions to consider open access publications in promotion and tenure evaluation.

Power of open access

Advocating for the free online availability of research literature – open access – is a powerful solution to the barriers that researchers in developing and transition countries face trying to access and share critical research that can improve people’s lives. Open access also improves efficiency. Data and text mining technologies are being practiced worldwide to speed up scientific discovery, economic, social and technological innovations.

The “Open access: knowledge sharing and sustainable scholarly communication in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda” Project was created to educate researchers and students about changing scholarly communication landscapes and advocates for the adoption of open access policies and mandates by research funding agencies, universities and research organisations. It also builds capacities to set up open access repositories and to publish open access journals.

The project is implemented in partnership with EIFL partner consortia: Kenya Library & Information Services Consortium (KLISC), Consortium of Tanzania Universities and Research Libraries (COTUL) and Consortium of Uganda University Libraries (CUUL) and funded by Spider, the Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions DSV, Department of Computer and System Sciences, Stockholm University.

When the project first began in 2013, open access was still a relatively new concept in these countries and a variety of difference strategies were taken to engage stakeholders in the process.

Some of the initiatives included 18 capacity building events, 31 awareness raising and advocacy workshops, setting up institutional and national advocacy groups (over 20), discussing and implementing open access policies and launching campaigns to encourage use and reuse of open access content in education, science and research.

Launching repositories, publishing journals

As a result of this work, over 100 institutions participated in the project and a number went on to launch open access repositories and publish open access journals.

Currently there are 25 fully operational open access repositories in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and 27 repositories are under construction (527% increase since the beginning of the project). And the number of documents deposited in repositories continues to grow. Eight institutional OA journals publishing platforms are in the process of being set up.

There are also some excellent institutional approaches to openness. For example, Prof. Nelson K. Sewankambo, Makerere University College of Health Sciences (MUCHS) Principal, reports that “making research more relevant” is now the guiding principle of his university. MUCHS is making research more relevant to the world by publishing an open access journal "African Health Sciences" and by depositing faculty publications and students dissertations in the open access institutional repository.

These collective achievements in open access mean that research that would have previously been hidden and buried is now available, researchers and academics can publish their work online and have it seen around the world more easily and the latest research results are now available who is interested – doctors and patients, farmers and entrepreneurs, educators and students.

About the author

Iryna Kuchma is the EIFL Open Access programme manager.