24.10.2013 - UNESCO Office in New Delhi

Strengthening Open Access in India

Open Access Week was first launched as a global initiative in 2009 to promote open access (OA) as the new norm in scholarship and research. On Monday, 21 October 2013, the first day of Open Access Week 2013, UNESCO New Delhi organized a National Conference titled ‘Opening up by Closing the Circle: Strengthening Open Access in India’ in partnership with Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA).

Held at JNU in New Delhi, the Conference brought together experts from the fields of library administration, research, academia, publishing, technology and public policy to critically review India’s present OA environment, and to design a roadmap for OA in the country. The absence of a national OA policy is the principal barrier to the widespread adoption of OA in India. Recognizing this shortcoming, the Conference included a policy roundtable for key stakeholders to make recommendations for the formulation of a National Policy on Open Access.

During his inaugural address, Shigeru Aoyagi, Director and UNESCO Representative to Bhutan, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka reflected on the need to improve access to and visibility of Indian research. Drawing attention to recent Government decisions in the US and UK to make public-funded research openly accessible, and the European Commission’s imminent adoption of a similar approach, Aoyagi observed that in the Indian context too ‘mandates (at both the institutional and national level) would likely play a decisive role’. Noting that the UNESCO Policy Guidelines for the Development and Promotion of Open Access have proved an effective tool for institutions and policymakers worldwide, Aoyagi urged participants to ‘discuss partnerships and collaborations on how to move towards a national OA mandate in India’.

The keynote address by Ramakrishna Ramaswamy, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Hyderabad, investigated OA from three perspectives: those of a practising academic, an academic administrator, and an editor of science journals. Ramaswamy pointed out that while academics usually try to publish in high-impact journals because of the ‘prestige factor’, these journals – most of which have originated in the West – could ‘compromise national research agendas by promoting areas of scientific inquiry that are not relevant to local needs or problems’. Although publishing in OA journals is a viable alternative, ‘open is not free, and many journals require substantial payment by authors and funding agencies for publication’. As an administrator at a Government institute, there arises an ethical issue when limiting access to information: ‘Shouldn’t the results of publicly funded research be made available to as many people as possible?’ And finally, as an editor and publisher one is compelled make tough choices between competing publishing models.

The first panel discussion, titled ‘Why Open Access?’ argued forcefully for a shift to OA, while exploring the legal, commercial and ethical complexities that OA presents. Tracing the growth of the OA movement, speakers investigated the meaning and implications of OA for different stakeholders. The smart management of information and content, and the question of rights and entitlements for authors and publishers emerged as significant discussion points. The general sentiment was captured by Sanjiv Goswami, the Managing Director of Springer India when he said: ‘OA has emerged as a fully developed alternative to traditional subscription publishing. But despite its many benefits there are still some reservations in terms of quality control, the authenticity of research, fundability, the financial viability of the “author pays” model, and legal concerns regarding copyright and intellectual property rights.’

The second panel, ‘The Open Access Environment in India’ offered detailed insights into OA programmes operated by leading Indian institutes, Government bodies and commercial publishers like SAGE, thus providing a nuanced overview of the current OA landscape in India. Institutional initiatives such as the repository of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) – a product of a remarkably progressive OA policy – were held up as models that had effectively tapped the potential of OA. The panel unanimously agreed on the need for ‘quality benchmarking, driven by a “quality policy””, as NV Sathyanarayana, the Chairman and Managing Director of Informatics India put it. According to Sathyanarayana, ‘A quality policy is urgently needed to keep the OA movement clean and relevant. OA publications must meet quality benchmarks in terms of infrastructure, editorial value, currency and authenticity of content, prestige, readership and performance.’

Participants of the concluding policy roundtable formulated several recommendations that could form the basis of a National Policy on Open Access in India. These included the need to expand and broad-base the Government of India’s existing resolutions and policies on sharing data; to craft synergies between OA and RTI requirements; to establish benchmarks for identifying ‘sensitive data’ that should not be made openly accessible; to recast existing policies for access to cultural artefacts; and to acknowledge and accommodate the value chain of costs that OA publishing entails while ensuring that these costs are not astronomical for end users.

There is an enormous opportunity and scope for OA in India. While the country’s scientific research productivity is expected to match that of most G8 nations by 2017, OA publishing could be the critical factor that ensures a corresponding level of access and visibility for Indian research. The aim of the National Conference was not simply to confirm the acceptance of the principles of OA, but to consider and propose a model National Open Access Policy that could be offered to the Government and funding organisations, as a practical tool for driving OA forward.




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