About two weeks ago I had the opportunity to document another conference for SARUA (Southern African Universities Association). SARUA works to facilitate co-operation between the leadership of universities in SADC countries. You can check them out and get a better idea of exactly what they do on their web-site, here: SARUA
Working with SARUA gives me an insight into matters that relate to learning/education – one of my pet issues – at a level that I would not otherwise be exposed to. They’re also nice people, so I enjoy being (in some small way) part of what they do.
This conference was held as a pre-event to the Going Global conference which was to start later the same day – both at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC). I’d only been to the CTICC twice before. The first time was in 2005 for the release party for then-Rhythm City actress Pam Andrews’ album Here We Go. Pam was pretty cool. Well, cool enough to have a shot of vodka with me at the bar after her performance. It may have been more than one shot, but I don’t really remember. Pam made another foray into music last year, but is now living in London. I hope it wasn’t something I said…
This is the video for Pam’s song from 2015 (which I’m pretty sure has nothing to do with anything I said):
(Please note: This bears no actual relevance to the conference, and is probably not suitable viewing for too-sensitive or discerning viewers)
My second visit to the CTICC was to pick someone up. I’m starting to think that – in the bigger scheme of things – the second occasion probably doesn’t carry much weight.
The aim of the conference was to expand dialog amongst the universities around the issue of Open Access. Open Access addresses the freeing up of access to published academic research on order to make it easier for students and researchers to utilize for the purposes of learning and reference in the production of further and related research. The way much of this knowledge is monopolised by a handful of publishers leads to universities having to pay exorbitant fees for access to published research – including that produced by their own researchers. Open Access also aims to help elevate the status of Universities and their researchers without them having to buy in to the costly corporate publishing structures.
Admittedly, I was not aware of the extent to which knowledge from academic research has become corporatised, so I was a little surprised. It seems that some progress is being made in the creation of systems that facilitate more affordable access to published research, but there is clearly still a lot of work to be done. The commoditisation and monopolisation of access to knowledge on such a large scale is surely a hindrance to our progress as humans, and when done purely for the financial gain, it seems criminal. Seems…? Obviously there are costs involved in producing, storing and distributing academic research, but when access to much of it is controlled by the amount of finance you have – as with any corporatisation – we seem to be missing the point.
Anyway, I won’t claim to be super knowledgeable on the topic, but I do believe that one should always strive to learn more. Knowledge certainly is power, and a practice of effectively withholding knowledge only defeats our progress. So do some of your own research, and if you’re privileged enough to be studying at reputable university – give it some extra thought. It may just be that the guy in the middle is not the true enemy.
- In conversation before the start of the conference
Nan Wagner, Project Manager of the Intellectual Property Unit at UCT, Prof Primrose Karusha, Vice Chancellor of Zimbabwe Open University and Dr Sijbolt Noorda of Magna Charta Obsevatory. Nan had kindly supplied me with a coffee earlier.
- The corner with the AV desk.
AV technicians behind at table with Prof Samson Sibanda, Vice Chancellor of the University of Science & Technology in Zimbabwe, and unidentified delegate and Dr Carol Nonkwelo, Executive Director of Research & Postgraduate Studies at the University of Johannesburg.
- Running late.
SARUA Director Botha Kruger explaining a slight delay to the start of proceedings.
- Welcome Address
SARUA Chairperson Dr Primrose Kurusha welcomes delegates.
- Research values in a changing world
Prof Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research & Postgraduate Studies at Wits started his address by paying tribute to seven of the university’s students who had lost their lives in a motor vehicle accident the preceding weekend. He was visibly moved by that event, but went on to deliver an impassioned address.
Prof Narend Baijnath, CEO of the Council of Higher Education in South Africa.
- Making notes
Various delegates from UCT
- Responses from Senegal
Dr Williams Nwagwu, Head of CODESRIA from Senegal with Dr Leti Kleyn, Manager of Open Scholarship & Digitisation Programmes at University of Pretoria paying close attention.
- Dutch Perspective
Dr Sijbolt Noorda of Magna Charta Observatory. I had to figure out how to use his iPhone to take a photo for him earlier…
- Insight from Latin America
Brazilian Bianca Amaro de Melo, Coordinator for Instituto Brasileiro addressing delegates.
- Trying to speed up the pace
A lighter moment with Bianca Amaro de Melo enjoying Dr Andoh Pascal Hoba’s attempt to get delegates to use less time.
Dr Andoh Pascal Hoba of Malawi’s UbuntuNet Alliance about to introduce Eve Gray, Open Access Programme Facilitator at the IP Unit, UCT.
- On Fire
Eve Gray is clearly not happy about corporate monopolies. One of her concerns related to how the high cost of access to published academic research could lead to the death of the academic publishing industry due to the threat of piracy, and drew a comparison to the music industry. I’m not sure that I agree completely that piracy was the main cause of the death of the music industry, but it was interesting to hear the issue come up. Having spent much time in the music industry, and having eventually been culled from it due to corporate greed, this issue is still close to my heart.
- The Convert
Garry Rosenberg from Essential Books has insight into the other side. He awkwardly confesses having worked for one of the big publishers, where margins take precedence over consequence.
- Making Movies
Dr Lidia Borrell-Damain, Director for Research & Innovation for the European Universities Association, delivers her address via USB stick.
- A Busy Man
Dr Hoba eventually taking the podium for his own address dealing with benefits of direct inter-African internet networks, and making a point of adhering to the adjusted time allowed for speaking.
- Gotta go
Prof Caroline Ncube of the Department of Commercial Law at UCT didn’t have to make excuses for rushing through her presentation. She had another appointment she had to get to after her address, and offered legal help to the OA movement.
- Emphasizing brevity
Dr Noorda listening to Prof Crain Soudien, CEO of the Human Sciences Research Council provide a summary after the conclusion of all the speakers’ contributions, and then attempting to insist on keeping questions and discussions to the point.
- A Life to Learn
Carolyn Medel-Anonuevo, Deputy Director of UNESCO’s Institute for Life-Long Learning had a lot to offer due to her vast experience, both as an educator, and in various organisations promoting education as a form of empowerment.
- The French Contingent
I think this is one of the delegates for Universite de Lubumbashi in the DRC. I may be completely mistaken. Help me if you know.
- Important Questions
Prof Stephanie Burton, Vice-Principal of Research & Academic Studies at University of Pretoria.
- Grateful Response
Piyushi Kotecha, CEO of SARUA responds to Prof Burton’s concerns.
- More pariticipation
Judy Favish, Director of Institutional Planning at UCT.
- And more
Gwenda Thomas from UCT Libraries.
- Raising concerns
Prof Samson Sibanda, Vice-Chancellor of Zimbabwe’s National University of Science & Technology.
- More from the French-speaking delegates
Prof Jean Paul Segihoba Bigira, Vice-Chancellor of the Universite de Goma in the DRC with an attentive Carolyn Medel-Anonuevo.
- Offering to share knowledge
Bianca Amaro de Melo offers to share knowledge gained from Instituto Brasileiro’s experience with Open Access to see if it is relevant for the African scenario.
- Contributions from my home town
Ellen Tise, Senior Director of Library Services at Stellenbosch University offers to help with co-ordination of further action.
- Contributing from the floor, too
Dr Hoba has a lot on his mind - and his plate - having played roles as Chairperson, Speaker and general participant.
Rector of the Universite de Lubumbashi, Prof Gilbert Kishiba Fitula.
- Emphasizing the importance of urgency, cohesion and commitment
Wrapping up the discussion, Dr Noorda made it clear that the only way to succeed is if there is a common goal without the distractions of differences in matters that are of no consequence to achieving that goal.
- In Closing
Prof Primrose Kurasha ended the formal proceedings with her closing remarks.
- Where it all starts
Dr Hoba connects with Prof Jean Paul Segihoba Bigira and other delegates. It’s seems to me that much of the value of conferences is in what happens after formal proceedings end. You make your friends over tea and a ham croissant…
- The UNESCO Effect
Delegates were quite keen to connect with Carolyn Medel-Anonuevo.
- Will you please...
The first semi-formal group photo.
- Just wait...
And the second. And the last.
There was quite lot of participation from delegates, and in order to be relatively representative, I have included quite a lot of photographs. You can see larger images here
On a technical note; Lighting in the venue was slightly deceptive. The ceiling is high, and is practically a huge lighting grid. This makes for even lighting, but because there’s light everywhere, the effect is rather bland. When the lights were set to the requirements of the event – with kind consideration for what I had to do – the space appeared to be much brighter than it actually was. I ended up using a bounced and flash to add a little light to the room. I’m not a great fan of the flash, so it was set to produce a very low output - mostly avoiding being too intrusive and distracting. In retrospect, I probably could have pushed the capabilities my tools a little further, but as it was – I just had to work a little harder. Next time…