The University of the Western Cape (UWC) has signed the Berlin Declaration to Open Access in the Sciences and Humanities.

“Universal and equitable access to information is vital for the social, cultural, economic and personal development of individuals and communities alike. Our goal is to transform South Africa by making information freely
accessible to all,” says Pateka Matshaya, library director at UWC.

Signing the declaration commits the university to supporting the principles of open access and working to achieve openness in publicly funded projects.

Open access is achieved through deposit of peer-reviewed research papers in repositories or through publication in open access journals – the research is thus free for all to view and use, not just those who’ve paid for
journal subscriptions or whose libraries have allowed them access (and in turn paid for subscriptions).

Researchers get to have their work read by many more people, industry is able to make use of academic work they might otherwise never have seen, and the public gets to see where their funds go – a win-win
situation for all those who create, use or are interested in human knowledge.

“Librarians since ancient times have been the custodians of knowledge, keeping it safe and sharing it with those who needed it<” Matshaya says. “Recorded knowledge has become a dynamic force in our world, and
technology has made free access to knowledge a real possibility now. We need to make use of that.”

Deputy minister of science and technology, Tshililo Michael Masutha, adds: “Open access serves to level the playing field between the haves and the have-nots, especially in the developing world.

“Like the telephone or radio or tape recorder – without which, being partly blind, I would never have been able to pass my law degree so long ago – new technologies can make the world a fairer place.”

But the benefits of open access do not end there, he says. “I really feel that projects like this will facilitate the production not only of new knowledge, but also of new knowledge producers, who will themselves
contribute in producing more knowledge and knowledge producers. Knowledge breeds knowledge, new knowledge breeds new possibilities. And new possibilities can change the world.”

Prof Brian O’Connell, UWC’s rector and vice-chancellor, explains what open access could mean for South Africa.

“We’re no longer isolated. Every South African can acquire all the knowledge that anybody else in the world can. And with this knowledge, and the right level of commitment, we can make this country something people will marvel at.”