Want to ramp up research? Open-access practices may help

A study into the current status of open access across Angolan higher education institutions showed moderate awareness of open access as well as limited application of knowledge and culture about it.

The sluggish practical incorporation of open access into academic processes in the sector could be connected to the slow progress in ramping up Angola’s research activity.

These are some of the findings that emerged from a 2022 study entitled ‘Open Access in Angola: A survey among higher education institutions’ published in the July issue of Scientometrics and authored by Wileidys Artigas and Eurico Wongo Gungula at the Universidade Óscar Ribas (Oscar Ribas University) in Angola, as well as Mikael Laakso at the Hanken School of Economics in Finland.

The study provided a descriptive quantitative mapping of the current status of open access within the higher education sector in Angola by using an online survey focusing on research management units of Angolan higher education institutions. The units provided information to investigate how and to what degree the institutions in Angola interact with the concept of open access to journal publications through their policies and practices.

Mapping open-access status

The study indicated that “few Angolan institutions employ 20 or more faculty members whose work duties include research, limiting the potential impact of open access, as research is still happening on a relatively modest scale”.

The results, pertaining to the publication of research articles by faculty, were low, in both subscription journals and open-access journals.

The question about the languages of preferred or encouraged publication channels revealed that Portuguese had the strongest presence, with Spanish and English following.

“With local journals often being multilingual for all three languages, this is not a concern as authors can select a language based on their own preference, but for international journals there is not always the same freedom, creating a potential threshold if only English is accepted in such forums,” the study warned.

“There seems to be a divide on the importance of publication outlets being indexed in Scopus or Web of Science, where half perceived it as a high priority or essential, and another half as not a priority or low priority.”

The presence of common journal indexing metrics was found to be strongly integrated into incentives and promotion practices of Angolan institutions. Therefore, the study indicated that, in the question relating to ‘Which metrics are valued and tracked by your institution?’, the most popular answer was the Journal Impact Factor with 72% (18 institutions).

When asked if the participant’s institution published a peer-reviewed journal of its own, almost 70% (16 institutions) responded negatively. A total of 30% (seven) of the institutions have peer-reviewed journals and indicated that their journal(s) were open access.

The study indicated that slightly over half of institutions reported the recruitment of faculty members who have extensive research experience, or were active in setting up research teams as strategies to boost research productivity.

Another issue holding back research growth, the study noted, is the low presence of postgraduate courses and education in Angola.

About half of the institutions provided some education on open access, and a quarter of institutions reported having an institutional open-access policy in place.

“While most of these policies were found to be put in place for awareness-raising, encouragement, and as recommendations for making open access work, two institutions had policies that included mandates of depositing publications in a repository within a specified time frame,” the study pointed out.

Among the institutions that had a policy, the main motivations were increasing institutional visibility, reaching for higher research impact and facilitating long-term cost-effective access to research findings, according to the study.

The study pointed out that, through the survey, there was an indication that Article Processing Charge (APC) payments and their tracking were not major factors, with few institutions reporting any APC payments, having both a low number of articles (1-4) and with no amount exceeding US$1,000.

The study indicated that only one-fourth of the Angolan higher education institutions had their own or participated in the use of a shared institutional repository.

Publishing was found to serve as an incentive for researchers through gaining priority in promotion, but, concerning incentives for publishing open access, more than half of the responding Angolan higher education institutions stated that they did not have any.

The study indicated that higher education institutions were not addressing ‘predatory journals’.

A total of 70% of the responding institutions indicated that they did not make use of any predatory journal list for guiding authors’ publication choices, and over half of the responding higher education institutions answered that they did not exclude articles or papers published in predatory journals when considering faculty promotion, according to study.

Overall open-access status

According to the study, progress on open access is reliant on the actions, or inaction, of the Angolan Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESCTI). A five-point plan is, however, providing guidance.

The five-point approach includes embracing open science also outside of open access; exploring alternative ways for communicating research (aside from a traditional, published journal article); requiring local criteria for research assessment and evaluation adapted to African realities, without being constrained to publish in prestigious journals; training and to attune local stakeholders in; and to decolonise and develop open-access policies that are sensitive to cognitive justice.

“Our study found that, while there are some institutions that have incorporated open-access policies and practices, overall open access is not yet a common priority among Angolan higher education institutions,” the study concluded.

Measures for building open-access capability

The study has put forward several measures for promoting open-access practices in Angola and across Africa.

These recommendations include scaling up research, building on the strengths and circumstances introduced by open access and adopting a strategy to boost research productivity which, in turn, can help to tackle the lack of qualified research groups and research centres functioning in Angolan public and private higher education.

In addition, the study recommends creating scientific journals by institutions in charge of improving Angola’s science indicators, with the aims of positioning them on the international stage.

“Leveraging existing open-access journal portals such as African Journals Online, or AJOL, or creating new ones, for hosting content would be an efficient and technically robust way of maintaining such journals,” the study suggested.

“We think the institutions are now open to the creation of journals as a new step to advance research, with multilingual journals being particularly attractive concerning the distribution of language preferences in the survey,” the study indicated.

To help authors to publish research works in solid journals, the study suggested that the higher education sector must publish lists of predatory journals for guiding authors, along with raising awareness about journals with questionable practices.

The study indicated that a repository could be “a fruitful area for furthering open-access practices, by getting institutions enrolled in the use of shared repositories, if having an individual one is not feasible”.

The study also called for encouraging researchers to archive in institutional repositories for increasing visibility, impact and audience to research outputs.

“The Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation of Angola would need to create new ways to incentivise higher education institutions and, by extension, Angolan researchers, to keep open access a priority [in particular] as research activity is ramping up in the country,” the study pointed out.

Looking forward

The study called on MESCTI to build capacities that help researchers to trust national journals and the processes necessary to enable research and the diffusion of knowledge.

“Having a stronger national policy would likely harmonise how different institutions are now implementing open access-related policies and practices … making cross-institution collaboration easier,” the study said.

International initiatives surrounding open science and open access could improve in their reach and include countries such as Angola so as not to create open solutions that only parts of the world can use, according to the study.

“If implemented well, open-science practices have the power to connect countries and the world in unprecedented ways, something which is to the benefit of research progress overall,” the study concluded.