While reading the book The Access Principle: the Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship by John Willinsky, I had a conversation with a friend that works at the World Bank about the importance of having open access to academic journals in institutions of higher education, in developing countries, and in institutions such as the World Blank. Organizations like these finance development projects in the developing world, which demands the ability to access up-to-date scholarly research.
I explained to her a case example from Willisky’s book – the case of the Kenya Medical Research Institute and their lack of information on tropical diseases due to the fact that they weren’t able to afford the leading journals about the subject.1 I continued to tell her about how the book proposes a principle of open access to scholarly research, which is described as a “a commitment to the value and quality of research carried with the responsibility to extend the circulation of such work as far as possible and ideally to all who are interested in it and who might profit by it.”2
With this principle in mind, we both – as Colombians – discussed how the quality of higher education in countries like ours could be vastly improved through a greater democratization of information. Each time that one sees world university rankings, the highest ranked ones are usually (though, not always) in the United States and the United Kingdom. These schools not only produce great professionals but also a vast amount of high quality scholarly research. In the majority of the cases, these wealthy institutions are more able to afford the fees required in order to have access to the best and most current research journals. So, if knowledge is predominately produced and accessed by these select institutions, the worldwide educational disparity will only continue to grow wider. This phenomenon is why I believe open access to knowledge is vital in improving education and research on a global scale.
What about institutions such as the World Bank? In our discussion, my friend mentioned how expensive it is for the World Bank’s to purchase access to academic journals and publications. This can be quite cumbersome for her, as she must justify the importance of the document for the project in order to gain approval to purchase the information. The justification goes to high authority that decides if the expense is worth it or not. If decision-making institutions such as the World Bank are limited in their ability to conduct thorough research because of costs, it is clearly more urgent a need to promote Willinsky’s principle as a major goal in a worldwide campaign to make knowledge democratized and at the service of people.
I know that this perhaps sounds idealistic, but Willinsky provides a variety of initiatives in which efforts are presently being made to promote open access. Coming from Colombia, I know how difficult it is to pursue higher education in the Sates. It is not to say that my college education was necessarily bad, but rather I know that by having open access to contemporary academic resources, my education would have been that much better and current.
1 To see more on this case and the help that the World Health Organization gave them, see: Jonh Willinky. The Access Principle, the Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship. Cambridge: The MIT Press. 2006 p.21
2 Willinky. The Access Principle… p. 57