ANIE Network | Research offers ways forward for university presses
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Research offers ways forward for university presses

The first research to provide an empirically-based overview of African university presses reveals a bleak landscape – but also a group of active presses that are deploying technology to reduce production costs, enhance visibility and widen their reach. It offers ways forward for universities and presses keen to respond to the remarkable growth of research in Africa.

The research was conducted by Francois van Schalkwyk, editor of scholarly publisher African Minds in Cape Town, and Dr Thierry Luescher of South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council, and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. It is outlined in a just-published report on The African University Press.

It found 1,572 African universities listed in the Worldwide Database of Higher Education Institutions, Systems and Credentials – though there are more, if clusters of new public and especially private universities are included.

Only 52 have at some point in their history been home to a university press. And of those 52 university presses, only 11 were found to have published in the past three years – using the listing of published titles online as an indicator of activity.

“Only one university press in Africa was found that publishes open access academic books, indicating that open access has not been integrated into the operational models of African university presses,” the report says – despite 36 African universities having signed the Berlin Declaration on Open Access, 12 of them included among the 52 African university presses.

Some research findings

A sharp increase in knowledge production across Africa in the past decade may be seen as an opportunity for African university presses – certainly there is no shortage of publishable content, although a major problem is the general preference of African academics to publish abroad.

The report reveals that the number of research articles published on the continent rose by 60% between 2008 and 2014. Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of global publications rose from 2.0% to 2.6% in the same period, and Africa’s gross expenditure on research and development grew from US$12.9 billion in 2007 to US$19.9 billion in 2013, calculated at constant 2005 prices.

Four in-depth case studies conducted as part of The African University Press research found that, with one exception, university presses are “bound by a traditional editorial institutional logic of the press as a site for the production of high quality academic books by a professional publisher supported by personal networks for the creation of a reputable press”.

Only one, the recently founded Wollega University Press in Ethiopia, was found to also have a market approach and to espouse the knowledge commons.

It is the only fully open access university press that has published both books and journals and, says the report, it shares with university management a common understanding of the value of the press in supporting the dissemination of research.

“This finding surfaced the possibility that university presses are more likely to thrive when the institutional logics of the university and that of the press itself are in alignment, and when such alignment is centred on the role of the press as a knowledge disseminator and not as a cost centre and profit generator.

“The case studies also drew attention to some of the areas ‘on the ground’ where African university presses face challenges with respect to the adoption of new technologies: human capacity, technical and legal know-how, and institutional frameworks.”

The research further found a “constant refrain (not always supported by facts) that insufficient funding is the destroyer-in-chief of a thriving university press ecosystem in Africa”. Read More

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