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Open Access and Global South Scholars: Needs, Experiences, Barriers. Workshop Report. 

Published onFeb 12, 2024
Open Access and Global South Scholars: Needs, Experiences, Barriers. Workshop Report. 

On the 11th January 2024, the Open Book Collective (OBC) in collaboration with the Southern Women Academic Network (SWAN) co-organised an online workshop titled ‘Open Access and Global South Scholars: Needs, Experiences, Barriers’. The event was hosted by Nonhlanhla Dube (Lancaster University/SWAN), Joe Deville (Lancaster University/OBC) and Judith Fathallah (Coventry University/Lancaster University/OBC), with attendees including scholars from India, South America and across the African continent, opening a discussion around OA scholarly resources for and by women scholars from the Global South. We invited discussants to share their experiences in accessing books, articles and other resources (whether Open Access (OA) or closed), the barriers they have come up against, and how they perceive their needs for the future of their research and full and equitable participation in academia. Joe and Judith also shared some of the work they have been doing around OA book publishing as part of the recently completed Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (COPIM) project and its ongoing successor Open Book Futures.  

SWAN convener Gracsious Maviza (Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT Africa Hub) introduced the network and some of the initiatives that SWAN has accomplished. Gracsious told us that women scholars in the Global South are often bearing a triple load of labour: reproductive work; the work they perform and for their communities; and academic labour. SWAN aims to enable women to pursue academia via workshops and seminars; establishing mentoring relationships; and setting up protected writing time for women scholars amongst other pursuits. 

Joe and Judith briefly introduced the work of the OBC, particularly our commitment to pursuing equity in Open Access publishing and increasing bibliodiversity in OA resources and initiatives. Bibliodiversity entails moving beyond the linguistic dominance of English in the academic landscape, and beyond Westerncentrism in terms of what resources are published and accessible. The OBC already has one publisher member based in Africa, African Minds, whose mission is to publish and disseminate OA books by African scholars and of specific interest to the African continent. They also introduced the aims of a workshop the OBC is co-organising in February in Cape Town, with colleagues at the University of Cape Town, involved in the African Platform for Open Scholarship (formerly Continental Platform), titled ‘Towards Sustainable Open Access Book Publishing in the African Context’ [link to programme].  

We asked SWAN members first to tell us about the challenges and barriers they experienced in accessing academic resources. As expected, lack of financial resources was a significant barrier, compounded by unreliable internet connectivity and lack of infrastructural support. Scholars run up against paywalls in attempting to access content which their institutions cannot afford – including content to which they have contributed personally. The problem is compounded by publishers’ use of proprietary platforms which require the reader to be continuously online – the resource cannot be downloaded, and if the reader is disconnected from the internet at any point, they will lose their progress and annotations.  

Lack of funding also inhibits SWAN members’ choice of where to publish. Scholars from the Global South are under-read and under-cited by the rest of the world, and whilst they might ideally wish to publish in an OA venue that will distribute their work as widely as possible, this option is constrained by the continued use of author-pays OA models by many publishers, with many Global South authors lacking access to funds for article and book processing charges. This accords with the findings of Okune et. al, who write that an author-pays model ‘only an elite few are in fact able to publish ‘openly’, leading to the privileging of certain voices and perspectives’ (2021, 361). Participants noted that some journals offer fee waivers for certain countries, but this is far from guaranteed, and often has the effect of limiting the academics’ choice of the most appropriate venue for her work. This is particularly problematic because as Okune et. al, observed, ‘scholarly publishing in and on Africa remains largely dominated by corporate academic publishers headquartered in cities around the global North’ (2021, 360). 

This is an example of how, as the OBC has previously argued, processing charges re-entrench the inequities inherent in academia which privilege scholars from wealthy institutions in the Global North, the subjects they write about, and the languages they write in. Related to this point, SWAN members pointed out that accessibility of scholarly networks and accessibility of language were as important to their career development as accessibility of resources, and this is a need that SWAN itself goes some way to serve. SWAN scholars also came up against problems related to reputation and inherited notions of prestige when seeking an OA publisher, similar to those we found when studying barriers to OA in the Global North. There is a perception that OA publishers are of lesser quality, and an association with vanity publishing. Within the OBC, we are of course keen to challenge such perceptions, but also recognise that they are widespread.  

In terms of how these problems can be alleviated to enable the full participation of scholars from the Global South in academia, clearly the approaches needed are systemic and complex. In terms of funding, initiatives like the OBC can alleviate the need for publishers to charge authors and institutions; and continuing global outreach can assist with attitudinal change. One need which the OBC can potentially help with more immediately, which SWAN members informed us is important, is guiding and assisting academics to better understand the OA publishing landscape, particularly beyond the Global North. Authors are often not aware of all their choices with regard to choosing a publisher; retaining copyright; licensing their work; and the publishing process. Within the Open Book Futures, the OBC is collaborating on developing a wideranging set of new resources for authors, as well as for publishers and libraries. In the interim, we have already developed a toolkit aimed primarily at small publishers, but which is also useful to authors, particularly with regard to issues like copyright and licensing. For authors, we would strongly recommend the OAPEN Open Access Books Toolkit, which provides a comprehensive set of resources for authors interesting in publishing long-form OA scholarship.  

Below, we have also included a list of further platforms and databases that can be used to find high-quality OA content, as well as some further readings:  


Platforms and Databases 

The African Platform for Open Scholarship (formerly Continental Platform), hosted at the University of Cape Town: 

The Directory of Open Access Books:  

The Directory of Open Access Journals:   

SciELO (Latin America and the Caribbean): 

SciELO Books (click links in top right corner for Spanish and Portuguese): SciELO Livros  

A list of Open Educational Resources Repositories and Platforms compiled by Open Book Publishers 


Further Reading 

Fathallah, Judith (2022). Open Access Monographs: Myths, Truths and Implications in the Wake of UKRI Open Access Policy. LIBER Quarterly: The Journal of the Association of European Research Libraries, 32(1),  

Okune, Angela (2019) Decolonizing Scholarly Data and Publishing Infrastructures. Africa at LSE (blog). May 29, 2019.  

Okune, Angela, Sulaiman Adebowale, Eve Gray, Angela Mumo, and Ruth Oniang'o (2021). Conceptualizing, Financing and Infrastructuring: Perspectives on Open Access in and from Africa, Development and Change 52: 2: 359-372,  




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