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Open Access and Developing Countries

The problems faced by research communities in developing countries

While the Open Access (OA) movement has been a topic of major debate and interest around the world, in the developing countries it has been seen as an unprecedented opportunity to provide equality of access to essential research information and raising awareness of national research.

The problems that developing countries have always faced with respect to research information are two-fold:

•The inability to afford subscriptions to journals (the N to S [North to South] knowledge gap)

•The inability to integrate national research into the global knowledge pool (the S to N and S to S knowledge gaps).

It is now well understood that many institutes and universities in developing countries are unable to meet the high cost of subscriptions and as a consequence researchers have remained informationally impoverished and professionally isolated. Further, the scholarly knowledge arising from their own research – critical for the development of appropriate programmes to solve global health and environmental problems such as infectious new diseases, climate change, agricultural security – has been ‘missing’ due to financial restrictions limiting the publication and distribution of national research literature. Moreover, information important for the resolution of health and environmental problems specific to developing countries is not generally published in traditional journals from the developed world.

How can OA help?

The two routes to open access recommended by the BOAI (link to definition)– (1) Institutional Repositories (IRs) and (2) OA journals – are both proven mechanisms for closing the information gaps in ways that are appropriate for low income countries.

Open Access:


  • provides access to the world’s research output, free of financial and other restrictions – a level playing field
  • incorporates local research into interoperable network of global knowledge;
  • increases impact of local research, providing new contacts and researchpartnerships for authors; removes professional isolation
  • strengthens economies through developing a strong and independent national science base.


1. Institutional Repositoriesare highly appropriate for the support of research in developing countries.



  • publicise an institute’s research strengths, providing maximum return on research investment;
  • can be mandated by institutions, speeding development;
  • provide an administrative tool for institutions;
  • increase impact and usage of institute’s research, providing new contacts and research partnerships for authors;
  • use free software and benefit from free technical support for installation and use;
  • low installation and maintenance costs;
  • quick to set up; quick to gain benefits;
  • provide usage statistics showing global interest and value of institutional research;
  • interoperable with all IRs, forming a global research facility;
  • common metadata protocol allowing other web applications, such as data mining.
  • may be used to archive other scholarly material, such as theses, presentations, videos, teaching material.


Set-up costs: Existing IRs in developing countries have provided information about set-up costs. One organisation in Indiacalculated that the set-up and running cost for a year amounted to US$6055, including the cost of a PC and a year’s managementcosts. Others reported that they used existing resources and did not need to buy new hardware. [Note: these responses relate to the establishment of an IR to hold and distribute the Institute’s scholarly publications and do not refer to a broad-scope digital library/information resource of the kind described by well-endowed organisations and costing many hundreds ot thousands of US$.]

What progress has been made in establishing IRs so far?

By January 2009, 192 IRs had been established in 28 developing countries, representing some 19% of the total global count of 1240 IRs (see ROAR or OpenDOAR for updates andfull details). Few currently show usage statistics, and some are at the early stages of development; others (such as the Rhodes e-Research Repositoryin South Africa, and the Venezuelan Universidad de Los Andes) are well established and demonstratinggood usageby both developed and developing countries. All IRs may be accessed from the ROAR database and searched via Google, OAIster and other search tools.

2. Open Access Journals (OAJs)

OA can also be achieved by (creating) and establishing OA journals or by converting existing journals to OA. Many publishers have converted journals to the OA model or are providing online OA versions while retaining toll-access (subscriptions) for the hard copy (printed) versions. Open source software for developing OA journals is now available. The best-known example is the Open Journal System.

Paying the costs of OA journals

Whereas some commercial journals in the industrial world charge a document management fee to authors wishing to benefit from open access, most – and all publications from the developing countries – do not charge a fee. The articles are free of cost both to authors and readers. The costs are recovered in other ways, such as income from print sales, other publishing services, author reprints, Web and print advertising, or membership fees and institutional support.

What progress has been made in establishing OA journals so far?

OAJs are now well established in developing countries. Examples of the best-known services, now distributing over 600 journals between them, are:

Bioline International a collection of over 70 OA journals published in 17 different countries; a Brazil/Canada non-profit initiative, established 1993.

MedKnow Publications – a collection of 59 medical journals published on behalf of societies and associations, mainly in India.

SciELO – a collection of over 500 journals published in Brazil and other countries in Latin America, Spain and Portugal.

Many others are listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Encouraging usage statistics are available from the services listed above. They demonstrate clearly the high numbers of requests for full text articles. One case study from India shows the increases that OA provides in terms of impact, increases in numbers of submissions and even increases in subscriptions to hard-copy (print) versions of the journals. OAJs are, therefore, providing an important service for the distribution of national research output for developing country researchers not otherwise readily avaiable.

OA Policies/Statements

Many developing country institutions are now producing policies about Open Access to their research output. In some cases these are mandatory, obliging researchers to make their work Open Access in one way or another. In addition to the growing number of OA mandates listed in the ROARmapdatabase (which includes mandates or proposed mandates from Brazil, China and India), the Salvador Declaration and Bangalore Model National Policy Statementare of particular importance for establishing OA strategies in developing countries.



1. WHO survey: Access to medical information for low-income countries. New England Journal of Medicine, 2004, 350(10), 966-68, Barbara Aronson.

Articles on Open Access and Developing Country Research:

Access to Scientific Knowledge for Sustainable Development: options for developing countries, ARIADNE , Issue 52, July 2007, B Kirsop, S Arunachalam, L Chan.

Open Access to Science in the Developing World , Peter Suber, Subbiah Arunachalam

Transforming access to research literature for developing countries, Kirsop, B., Chan, L., Serials Review, Vol.31, No.4, 2005

Open Access and the Health Sciences in the Developing World: an Overview, Alma Swan (Key Perspectives), invited paper for the Bellagio Conference, Making the eHealth Connection: Global Partnerships, Local Solutions, July 13 2008

Brazilian open access initiatives: key strategies and challenges, Costa, S M S, Leite F C L

An overview of the development of open access journals and repositories in Mexico, Galina, I, Gimenez, J

Open access in India: hopes and frustrations, Arunachalam, S.

African Universities in the knowledge economy: a collaborative approach to researching and promoting open communications in higher education, Gray, E, Burke M.

Open access archiving: the fast track to developing research capacity in developing countries. Chan, L., Kirsop, B., Arunachalam, S. 2005.

Open Access, Equity, and Strong Economy in Developing and Transition Countries: Policy Perspective. Iryna Kuchma. Serials Review Volume 34, Issue 1, March 2008, Pages 13-20. Self-archived pre-print < http://www.library.ukma.kiev.ua/dspace/handle/123456789/92>

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