Open Access publication of scientific research and articles is hitting its stride, particularly in the Netherlands, where the various universities, government agencies and even publishers are arriving at much-improved agreements on Open Access to scientific publications. Mindel van de Laar of UNU-MERIT/Maastricht Graduate School of Governance (MGSoG) regards Open Access as a major opportunity for developing countries.
Mindel van de Laar warmly welcomes Open Access
More opportunities for developing countries
The umbrella organisation of Dutch universities, VSNU, feels that the advantages of Open Access are obvious. Scientific articles are easier to find, find a wider audience and are cited more often. In practice, Open Access means that entrepreneurs, teachers, doctors and other interested parties in the field have access to the latest scientific insights.
Society, the economy and science all benefit from this. “That is completely correct, obviously,” says Mindel van de Laar, a programme director at UNU-MERIT/MGSoG’s part-time PhD programme. “Sharing and exchanging knowledge boosts development and helps people arrive at better insights sooner. This is already true for the Western world, but even more so for developing countries. It is precisely in Africa, South America and parts of Asia that scientific publications are harder to access. At present, scientific journals still charge a fee for downloading articles. Sometimes, they charge a lot of money, which universities in less affluent countries do not have, much less their students. Open Access may really boost the development of higher education and the writing of scientific articles in such countries.”
In the Western world, it is customary for universities to have access to hundreds of licences and subscriptions through their brilliantly equipped libraries, which means that students of such universities have access to a near infinite amount of information. Furthermore, they receive help finding things from library personnel. “In Maastricht, these things have been taken care of very well” says the economist, who got her degree in Maastricht and is responsible for several research and training projects at UNU-MERIT, in addition to being the director of the part-time PhD programme. “The same cannot be said for, say, Africa. Generally, universities there have limited budgets, and students cannot afford the licences, either. What this boils down to is that they are less qualified and often have a knowledge gap by the time they wish to embark on a master’s degree or PhD. If, thanks to Open Access, more publications, articles, videos and other scientific materials become available, this will be a huge improvement.”
It is not for nothing that Mindel van de Laar mentions Africa. She is one of the initiators and driving forces of the Community of Learning for African PhD Students (CoLA) project, a platform providing study-related materials targeted at PhD students and their supervisors at universities in sub-Saharan Africa. It is freely accessible and based on open-source software and materials. “It includes our own materials, supplemented with open-access publications. The platform was tested last year by PhD students and their supervisors from South Africa and Ghana. We would like to expand this community and the available content. We are doing so by expanding the online curriculum, the bibliography for which consists of open-access papers, videos, links to websites and an extensive Q&A module. It is currently available to PhD students in Africa. We hope that more open-access material will become available, so that we can tell these scientists about it and share it with them.”
Things seem to be heading in that direction. Universities and scientists will pay publishers to publish their articles, after which said articles will be made available to everyone, free of charge. “In this way, publishers are creating a new revenue model, and this is how information will also become accessible in developing countries. Overall, I think education and research will benefit the most, as students going about their studies and research will be able to build on recent publications by other scientists. Of course, there will be benefits for UNU-MERIT and UM, as well. By sharing our work through an open-access system, we are giving prospective students the opportunity to get to know us and our problem-based learning system. Hopefully, some of them will choose to embark on a master’s programme in Maastricht. That is important, as well.”
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