Expanding Access to Research in the Developing World:

What happens in the long term?

 This blog seeks to develop a conversation about how we, a community of researchers and librarians, can respond to the problem of expensive information resources in low-income countries. ITOCA has been working on this issue for almost twenty years, and during that time, we have seen many solutions offered – yet the problem remains.

To start the conversation, we include here a timeline for events in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) related to access to scientific communication and research material. This timelines starts around the same time that CD-ROMs became available worldwide, and does not include information about how African universities and research institutes obtained peer reviewed articles prior to the advent of CD-ROMs. If some of you have information on this earlier time period, we welcome your input.

CD-ROMs containing abstracts of journal articles are made available to some universities and research institutions. They only contain the abstracts for the articles, and those interested in the full-text need to request them from well-financed libraries in the Global North, including the British Council.  The article would then be mailed to the requester via snail mail reaching them weeks or months later.

TEEAL creates a CD collection delivering full-text journal articles. The idea for TEEAL arose in the 1980s, and TEEAL was born in order to effect long-term improvements in food security and agricultural development by giving scientists better access to current research. TEEAL is available to public sector and not-for-profit educational and research organizations institutions in 116 of the lowest income countries. The cost of TEEAL is kept relatively low, compared to the cost of individual subscriptions to its journals. If subscribed to individually, the cost of the journals in TEEAL would be worth over $1 million US dollars. The income generated from the TEEAL sets distribution is used to sustain production and train users in eligible developing countries. Since 1999, ITOCA (formerly, the TEEAL Africa Office) has helped place TEEAL sets in Africa and trained thousands of librarians, information specialists, and researchers. ITOCA has created a network of contacts at libraries and information centers at major agricultural universities and national agricultural research institutes throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

TEEAL is a success and many research and academic institutions in Africa, South Asia and South America subscribe to the resource.

Hinari is launched in January 2002 and set up by the World Health Organization (WHO) and major publishers to enable developing countries to access collections of biomedical and health literature. Hinari is the first of Research4Life, the collective name for five UN research literature access programmes (HinariAgoraOAREARDI and GOALI). The resources use the Internet, and not CDs or a hard drive to access the material. Hinari is free for low-income countries and charges a nominal access fee to public and not for profit institutions in middle-income countries.
Hinari delivers a collection of thousands of health and biosciences journals and e-books. The resource is a success and thousands of low-income country institutions (national universities, research organisations, teaching hospitals, healthcare centers, government offices, national medical libraries and local NGOs) sign up for the resource.
Many universities and hospitals in the SSA region, including Makerere University, the University of Nairobi, and University of Zimbabwe begin using Hinari.
Undersea cables reach Africa, and affordable broadband Internet availability increases, particularly for large coastal cities.A conference organized by the Open Society Institute in Budapest issues the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) statement outlining principles relating to open access to research literature, triggering the Open Access Movement.

FAO and Cornell University create AGORA – launched in Rome in October 2003.  AGORA is the second Research4Life programme offering access to major scientific journals in agriculture and related biological, environmental and social sciences.Berlin Open Access Conference is held in 2003, where the Berlin Declaration was signed.  The Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities published in October 2003 heightened ‘awareness around the theme of accessibility to scientific information’ and heralded the Open Access Movement.

PERI (Programme for the Enhancement of Research Information) funding becomes available for consortia of university and research institution libraries to purchase journal databases at discounted rates. The PERI databases offer selected collections such as EBSCO host, Emerald, Web of Science and other expensive databases from the participating publishers.

PERI required consortia of libraries to subscribe to the journal databases. Each library paid a proportion of the cost of the database based on the number of students in the university. By 2012 the number of eligible countries had grown to 28 countries including several Sub-Saharan Africa countries.

With PERI, INASP liaises with the research community to identify required databases and negotiates fees for countrywide access for not-for-profit consortia institutional libraries.  By 2013 the programme had evolved to a five-year Strengthening Research and Knowledge Systems (SRKS) programme, but it is set to end in early 2018.

By November 2004, Google Scholar is founded. The platform indexes most peer-reviewed online academic journals and books, conference papers, theses and dissertations, preprints, abstracts, technical reports, and other scholarly literature. By 2013 it’s over 100 million records are used by academics and researchers opening opportunities for users from the SSA region

As local area networks developed and became more common in institutions and libraries in the developing world, LanTEEAL, the network-based variant of TEEAL, was released to over 300 institutions. Annual updates to journals in TEEAL are produced by Mann Library using revenue from sales of sets, along with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

OARE (Online Access to Research in the Environment) is launched by UNEP with support from Hewlett Packard and MacArthur Foundation and joins Research4Life programmes as the third initiative. OARE is a database of environmental peer-reviewed journals and e-books.

By 2007 Open Access becomes part of the conversation. The Berlin conference in 2007 launched Open Access journals as a viable alternative to the published databases.

By 2008 open access gave opportunity to an emergence of a range of online tools using the ‘social networking’ model for academic and research purposes. ResearchGate and Academia.edu (both launched in 2008) pushed publishing boundaries by giving researchers the ability to self-publish. The platforms allow the users to create, upload their work, select areas of interests and then the scientists can access and connect with their peers from the more industrialized countries.

Institutional Repositories (IR) are discussed and offered at many African research organizations and universities in the SSA region through OpenDOAR (The Directory of Open Access Resources). The initial IR momentum in the SSA region did not last for long.

By July 2009, an underwater fiber optic cable line connected East Africa into the broader Internet ushering a new era for Digital economy and opening up great opportunities for research and education in the region.

ARDI (Access to Research for Development and Innovation) is launched by WIPO and joins the Research4Life programmes. ARDI becomes the fourth initiative to join Research4Life and provides access to scientific and technical information in developing countries.
By 2010 National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) have also developed many internet-based services in the SSA region. The NREN’s vision of securing high speed connectivity, mainly optical fibre-based, for the research and education community – at affordable prices connecting African research and education institutions to each other, to other NRENs worldwide and to the Internet generally is a laudable effort.  However – the ‘last mile’ connectivity is still a struggle especially for the many academic and research institutions located in remote rural Africa – where even the mobile network companies are still to deliver, viably, affordable bandwidth.

Berlin10 Conference takes place in South Africa (ten years after Berlin OA Conference), and the conversation about Open Access moves to the SSA region. By this time, publishers have developed the Gold Standard in Open Access in which authors pay to publish their articles. This can be a barrier for many African researchers who do not have the funds to pay.
The TEEAL infrastructure is redesigned. TEEAL is released on a small foot-print computer designed to allow for easy access to TEEAL via an institution’s local area network. TEEAL now delivers over 450 journals with more than 500,000 full-text articles.

Sci-hub launches. Sci-hub offers access to research articles for free in new ways. It bypasses publisher paywalls by allowing access through educational institution proxies. Sci-hub has been controversial, lauded by parts of the scientific and academic communities and condemned by a number of publishers, since it does not license the copyrighted content from the publishers.  It shuts down and reopens a few times due to pressure from publishers and lawsuits over copyright infringement.

GOALI is launched as the fifth Research4Life programme. GOALI – Global Online Access to Legal Information is a new programme launched and is aimed at providing free or low cost online access to legal research and training in the developing world.
Research4Life programmes – the participating publishers, UN agencies and others partners have recently renewed their commitment to see the programme through to 2020.
The coverage of research articles indexed by Google Scholar continues to grow. However – the fact that many of Google Scholar’s search results link to commercial journal articles, most users are able to access only an abstract and the citation details of an article, and have to pay a fee to access the entire article – a major stumbling block for SSA users.
Internet connectivity in SSA region is improving, but far from perfect. ICT infrastructure and Internet connectivity is gradually improving, especially at institutions located in urban areas.
TEEAL continues to serve remote and rural institutions where internet is unreliable. The Research4Life programmes link to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) gives great hope for continued access for SSA countries in the short-to-medium term.The SRKS programme closes in 2018.

The question is what happens in the long term? How will the researcher at the SSA institution be able to access quality research at affordable rates and meaningfully contribute to the discourse of knowledge in their area of specialization – like their counterparts in other world regions? Will any ‘library consortia models’ gain traction and offer viable solutions in SSA region countries?