Achieving research impact for development: a critique of research dissemination policy in South Africa, with recommendations for policy reform

Achieving research impact for development: a critique of research dissemination policy in South Africa, with recommendations for policy reform

Reviewing the policy context for research publication in South Africa

Publishing scholarly output in Africa is hindered by a lack of resources, arising from unwillingness on the part of both government and higher education institutions to fund research publication – or even to regard scholarly publication as something which ought to be funded. Markets are small for those print publishers trying to work on a commercial model, leading to high prices and market resistance. It is not surprising, then, that Africa is poorly represented in global scholarly output. Statistics published by UNESCO in 2000 showed that 72 per cent of book exports worldwide come from North America, the United Kingdom and Western Europe.

This paper reviews the policy context for research publication in South Africa, using the country’s relatively privileged status, amongst African countries, and its elaborated research policy environment as a testing ground for what might be achieved – or what needs to be avoided - in other African countries. The author argues that there is, in the formulation of research policy, a largely uncharted clash between South African national research and innovation policies focused on development and access on the one side, and the traditionally-accepted model of academic publishing on the other. The traditional publishing model has, as its core value, enhancement of the reputation of the individual scholar and his or her institution.

Key recommendations include:

  • there is a need for advocacy to promote the importance of effective and broad-based research dissemination as a way of achieving greater impact for African research, nationally, regionally and globally 
  • international and regional policy (access and participation): at an international level, policy initiatives that address the global knowledge divide need to move to an approach driven by the idea of access 
  • national policy (intellectual property law): greater openness for research dissemination could be achieved without the need for changes in Intellectual Property (IP) law. However, there is a need to address the inconsistencies in South African IP legislation in relation to fair dealing and special provisions for educational and library use 
  • institutional policies: if research publication is to be development-focused and not only geared to international prestige, then institutions would need to address a wider range of criteria for academic reward and promotion, more closely geared to the overall aims of national higher education and research and innovation policies.
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