As part of the Open Science Day holding on the sidelines of the World Science Forum and the Science Granting Councils Initiatives’ Annual Forum in Cape Town, South Africa, the Association of African Universities (AAU) has made a high-level presentation on why Open Science is important for African Universities and the AAU’s role in institutional policy dialogue.
Addressing participants, Mrs. Felicia Nkrumah Kuagbedzi, the Senior Communications and Publications Officer, who spoke on behalf of Mr. Abednego Corletey, the Senior IT Officer for AAU, highlighted the importance of top-level support at both the University and National levels to foster the adoption and advancement of Open Science. She indicated that the Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies (ROARMAP) states that out of 1,225 African universities, only 36 have Open Access Mandates and none have Open Science ones, and therefore it was urgent for key players advancing the course of Open Science to implement strategic approaches to increased awareness and buy-in from the key decision makers in African Universities.
The AAU’s presentation underscored the fact that Open Science presents enormous benefits to the research ecosystem, including promoting access to knowledge, ensuring efficiency and quality of research, promoting innovation and collaboration, garnering increased visibility for both African Researchers and their Research. Mrs. Nkrumah Kuagbedzi mentioned that Open Science, by its very nature requires researchers to make their data, processes for data analysis and findings readily available to others, from the very start of their research, thus promotes transparency in the research process, and assures the reproducibility and replicability of research.
Key intervention by the AAU and its Partners – PLOS, TCC & UNESCO
The presentation to participants at the forum highlighted some of the various interventions being implemented by the Association of African Universities and its partners – the Public Library of Science (PLOS), The Training Centre in Communications (TCC) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in promoting the adoption of Open Science by African Universities.
The initiatives, being championed with an overall goal of increasing awareness and getting the buy-in from the higher education leaders (both top and mid-level management), include institutional policy dialogues, advocacy, and capacity building among others. Regional meetings and workshops have been hosted for the East and Central Africa Regions and the Northern Africa Region. Both events, hosted on the theme – ‘Open Science Policies and Mandates in African Higher Education Institutions’, were highly successful and had over 650 participants in attendance. The East and Central Africa event was hosted by the University of Dar-es-Salaam, in Tanzania, from 14th -15th July 2022, while the Northern Africa Regional event was hosted by the British University in Egypt from 26th – 27th October 2022.
The Association of African Universities also focused its 2022 Africa Universities Day Celebrations (a week-long statutory celebration to mark the establishment of the AAU), on the theme ‘Open Science – Bringing Equity to Research and Publishing’. The weeklong celebration featured key events from November 7 -12, 2022, and convened various higher education stakeholders, including African Universities, ministries of education, industry, and development partner institutions as well as others for dialogue on the important topic of Open Science.
Participants were also told that the AAU established a Knowledge Management Unit in 2005 to improve and put in place mechanisms to ensure that the knowledge generated by African Universities are properly managed. This unit had since then focused on creating the requisite platforms, for instance it introduced and managed the Database of African Theses and Dissertations -Including Research (DATAD-R) Platform. The DATAD-R platform was set up to help increase visibility and improve access to research emanating from African Higher Education Institutions and can be accessed from here – http://datad.aau.org:8080/xmlui/. The Unit has also been engaging in capacity building and helping institutions to set up their repositories, among others.
The presentation made by the AAU on the Open Science Day also highlighted the key roles of the National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) in terms leveraging their infrastructure, resources, and expertise to support the Open Science agenda. AAU spearheaded the NREN agenda with partners as far back in 2005 and has partnerships with the various networks, including – the West and Central Africa Research and Education Network (WACREN), UbuntuNet Alliance for Research and Education Networking, and the Arab States Research and Education Network (ASREN).
Planned Events and Upcoming Engagements
Beyond the policy dialogues and current engagement by the AAU and partners, it was emphasized that the focus going forward is to present the value proposition of Open Science to more stakeholders at the topmost level of African Higher Education, including University Senate bodies. So far, institutions have invited the partners to present the Open Science discourse to their senate members as part of ensuring buy-in.
Events are also planned for 2023 in South Africa to be hosted by the University of Cape Town for the entire Southern African Universities.
Other Presentations and Discussions by Participants
The session on Open Science which was facilitated by Dr. Ezra Clark of UNESCO and Ms Joy Owango of the Training and Communication Centre, Africa, also featured key presentations by other institutions as well as a question-and-answer session with experts.
Dr. Jo Havemann, of AfricArXiv elaborated on the various platforms, infrastructures and networks that exist on the continent, while Dr. Justine Germo Nzweundji, of the Global Young Academy also engaged participants on the various opportunities and challenges for early career researchers.
The expert panel that delved deep into discussing various topical issues, including strategies for overcoming some unintended consequences of Open Science – article processing charges, commercial exploitation of data, predatory behaviors, and other topics, included Roheena Anand, PLOS; Prof. Arianna Becerril-García, AmeliCA; Dr. Andrés Izeta, National University of Cordoba; Dr. Bianca Amaro, LA Referencia; Maria Cotera, Figshare; Felicia Nkrumah Kuagbedzi, AAU; Dr. Peggy Oti-Boateng, African Academy of Sciences; Susan Veldsman, InterAcademy Partnership & ASSAF; and Dr. Mathieu Denis, International Science Council.
Dr. Ezra Clark, of UNESCO also briefed participants about the UNESCO Recommendation Checklist on Implementing Open Science at Universities and referred them to access this important document via the UNESCO website – https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000379949.locale=en
Overall, participants unanimously agreed that there’s a great deal that needs to be done by Africa and its Higher Education Institutions and stakeholders to leapfrog its Open Science adoption rates. The raising of funds locally to support Open Science also came tops as priority during the discussions. Similarly, the importance of partnering with researchers from other continents, and working to gain the necessary political will in our various countries and institutions were highlighted as being critical. Participants and researchers, generally, were called on to be ambassadors of Open Science wherever they find themselves.
About the SGCI Annual Forum Platform
The SGCI Annual Forum is part of the series of high-level dialogues and engagements hosted by the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa, on the side-lines of the World Science Forum. The SGCI holds these dialogues annually as part of its strategy to strengthen partnerships, share experiences and practices on a range of emerging topics, and network amongst themselves and with other science system actors within and outside the African continent.
Written By: Felicia Nkrumah Kuagbedzi, Senior Communications and Publications Officer, AAU
Reviewed By: Nodumo Dhlamini, Director of ICT, Communications and Knowledge Management, AAU