Spotlight on open access learning

Ray Maota

Open access resources will benefit everyone, especially pupils, as they will be able to access valuable information which would have been out of their reach if they had to pay for it.
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Professor Russel Botman, rector and vice chancellor of Stellenbosch University, said that it was important to bridge the divide and to set up processes for the free flow of information to and from developing countries.
(Image: Stellenbosch University)

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Open Educational Resources (OER) is a system that uses digital materials for teaching, learning and research, and makes them freely available online.

While many OERs are developed in industrialised countries, developing nations should themselves be more than mere consumers of them.

OERs are to be shared, exchanged, expanded and adapted – with appropriate attributions.

After becoming the first African university to sign the Berlin Declaration on open access to knowledge in science and humanities in 2010, Stellenbosch University will also become the first African host of the Berlin 10 Open Access Conference.

Berlin 10 is the result of a meeting organised in 2003 by the Max Planck Society and the European Cultural Heritage Online project, where international experts were brought together “with the aim of developing a new web-based research environment using the Open Access paradigm as a mechanism for having scientific knowledge and cultural heritage accessible worldwide”.

The result was the signing of The Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, a document outlining the promotion of the internet as a medium of stimulating knowledge worldwide.

Building on the widely accepted Budapest Open Access Initiative, the Berlin Declaration also calls for authors not to expect payment for their research and for them to give permission to others to use their work, so as to accelerate the pace of scholarship and research.

Talking open access

The Berlin 10 Open Access Conference, where unrestricted access to research material is to be discussed, will be held at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) in the Western Cape from 6 – 8 November 2012.

The conference has been held annually since 2004 and to date Germany, Switzerland, England, Italy, France, China and – most recently – the US – have hosted it.

Professor Russel Botman, rector and vice chancellor of Stellenbosch University, said: “Stellenbosch University will be a proud host of this prestigious event along with the Max Planck Society; the Academy for Science for South Africa; Unesco; and, the Association of African Universities.”

Making research more accessible

Botman said that the time is right for Berlin 10 in South Africa.

“South Africa and its academic and research institutions are at the juncture where they are formally adopting open access principles.

“Africa is a near silent, almost invisible contributor to global research, but the research that is being conducted on the continent is not easily accessible to the international audience.”

Botman said that it was therefore important to bridge the divide and to set up processes for the free flow of information to and from developing countries.

“In my capacity as the vice president of The Association of African Universities, it is my obligation to see that higher education on the continent benefits from Berlin 10 but more importantly that Africa fully embraces open access itself,” he said.

Signatories of the Berlin Declaration

Signatories of the Berlin Declaration will add value to the worldwide research output and at the same time make their mark as a progressive institute

“Since Stellenbosch signed the declaration, five other institutions in South Africa have done the same,” said Botman.

These are: the University of Cape Town; the University of the Free State; the University of Pretoria; the University of South Africa; and the University of Johannesburg.

There are 10 other African institutions that have already signed the declaration, including the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana; the National University of Lesotho; and, the Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda.

If your institution wants to sign the Berlin Declaration, your highest representative needs to send an email or letter to the president of the Max Planck Society, indicating his or her wish to be listed as a signatory of the Berlin Declaration.

Botman said: “Stellenbosch University is also one of a small group of institutions worldwide that have started to publish some of their journals using open source software.

“In October 2011 the university launched 11 titles now being made available in this way.”

Registration for the conference

Registration to attend the conference is now open and early birds will get a discount.

Those who register before 15 September 2012 pay R3 300 (US$391), while those who miss that deadline will pay R4 000 ($474).

The registration payment includes registration for the main conference, as well as lunch and coffee/tea breaks; workshops; conference and workshop material; the welcome function; and a gala dinner including transport.

For payment and account details visit the Berlin 10 website.