On the sidelines of the AUC Business Forum, hosted February 9-11 at AUC, University of Toronto’s Associate Director of Center for Critical Development Studies, Leslie Chan, gives us his insights on the challenges to free and open access to knowledge for researchers in developing countries.
What does open access mean?
Open access refers to the costs and barriers to free access to journal publications and books that are resulted from research. This is particularly important for developing countries, because historically, their knowledge has not been as widely shared and accessed because of limitations of technology.
But with the internet, in theory, much of their knowledge that has been invisible before could now be shared with the rest of the world.
More importantly, open access is really about opening the participation of researchers from all parts of the world to take part in research and share the knowledge as openly and widely as possible for anyone who wants to use them. This is especially important from a development perspective.
What are the main challenges facing the notion of open access in developing countries, particularly the MENA region?
Right now, the access to technology is still very uneven around the world; a lot of infrastructural challenges still exist. So improving infrastructure is one of the key factors, but also improving the standards in terms of who gets to make decisions about what constitutes legitimate knowledge, and how this knowledge should be shared is also important. So including voices from developing countries in this decision making is crucial.
One of the big challenges for researchers in the MENA region and other parts of Africa is that they don’t get to take part in a lot of these global policy decision-making about research priorities and so forth, and so it’s important that they have a seat at the table to make these kinds of important decisions.
And of course, the dominance of the English language as a language for publication has been a challenge for other languages, including Arabic as well. So expanding this kind of inclusion of languages and different ways of research is a very important factor.