Report on a Strategic Approach to Research Publishing in South Africa
Consensus Study report
Two strands of influence have affected the publication of local scholarly journals in South Africa in the recent past. The first of these was the establishment of the Bureau of Scientific Publications that subsidized the publication of a number of journals that had been established during the 20th century. The ‘Bureau journals’ were an attempt to foster academic publication in South Africa and to make their products available to an international readership – quality of material was to be coupled to quality of production. In this respect the establishment of the Bureau was mimicking a similar development in Australia and could be seen as a mechanism for fostering home-grown talent. The second influence was a new mechanism of funding universities, which rewarded them directly for the academic publications that they produced. Both of these influences had a significant impact on the development of local journals, the behaviour of individuals, the financial sustainability of learned societies that produced the journals, and the institutions that received the ‘output’ subsidy. The Bureau was recently closed, with only one journal, The South Africa Journal of Science, continuing to receive support through the Academy of Science of South Africa on the basis of its international impact. The funding for ‘outputs’ of the tertiary institutions has continued, although in a modified form that includes a reward for completed masters and doctoral degrees. These developments raised two related questions. The first was whether it was appropriate for the state to support the publication of (some) learned journals in the interest of fostering intellectual exchange. The second question was whether all of the articles, published in journals recognized for the output subsidy of universities, deserved to receive recognition, in view of the wide variation in quality of the material produced. The Academy was commissioned in 2001 in this context by the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (now the Department of Science and Technology) to undertake a study to address these two questions, with a view to making recommendations for the optimal development of policy in the future. The effect of globalization on knowledge exchange, which is mediated very largely through scientific journals being published in English, and having their origins in Europe and North America, has resulted in the neglect of regional journals. It has also led to the development of benchmarks based on bibliometric analysis of publication patterns that has resulted in global ranking of tertiary institutions. These trends are being countered in the African context, with its relatively neglected tertiary sector, by a need that is expressed by the African Academies of Science that are members of the Network of African Scientific Academies (NASAC), to consider the publication of high-quality journals that report work of significance to African scientists. The degree to which such a project is feasible, and whether it could be successfully implemented both in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent, needs to be explored after the release of this report. Although the report was prepared at the request of, and with funding from the Department of Science and Technology, in order amongst other matters to address specific questions that had been raised about the subsidy for scholarly outputs, its potential impact both in understanding international trends in scholarly knowledge production and in giving guidance to those who would like to foster the publication of indigenous journals, will be great if careful attention is given to the recommendations that are contained in this study. The report was developed and has been guided to a successful conclusion by Prof Wieland Gevers who initiated it during his tenure as President of the Academy and has now brought it to fruition as the Academy’s Executive Officer, with the invaluable assistance of Dr Xola Mati as study director. He and the authors of the various chapters are thanked for the care and attention with which they have produced a seminal analysis of South African publication patterns. They will receive their reward in full measure through the impact that this report will have on the further development of the National System of Innovation.