29 November 2017 Volume :5 Issue :62

The UKZN Griot. Of Small Journals and Incentives

The UKZN Griot. Of Small Journals and Incentives

It’s official. The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) publication incentive is intended for universities, not individuals, according to a senior DHET official who participated in the Future of Scholarly Publishing Seminar, held at Stellenbosch University (SU) in late September. Individuals will benefit from research resources but it is the view of DHET that they may not bank even a portion of the publication incentive as taxable income. This meeting in which I participated occurred co-terminously with UKZN’s own strategic planning exercises involving the Colleges. While UKZN has never permitted its authors to personally bank DHET incentive payment, there are other issues that do pertain.

Editors, university presses, state bureaucrats, librarians, archivists, science communication scholars, at SU all agreed:  the rent-seeking behaviour that underpins much South African university institutional policy needs to be critically addressed at both national policy level and in terms of internal institutional rewards.  Why does it occur, how is it done, and with what impact? 

A study done by the Centre for Evaluation on Science and Technology (CREST) for the Academy of Science for SA (ASSAf) is very revealing, as some journals have an over 60% home authorship, and some have secured few, if any, citations. Of the 318 registered South African journals, over 200 are not listed on either the Web of Science (WoS) or Scopus.  They remain largely unknown to the wider world, and still qualify for incentives.   

In 2015 DHET introduced a new criterion to discourage rent-seeking by small journals that were in the habit of publishing the majority of authors from the journal’s home base. The previous 50:50 split was recast 25:75 between home and external authors publishing in any single issue. When the amendment was publicised, I asked DoHET via ASSAf to clarify this 25:75 provision as not a single editor at the 2015 National Scholarly Editors’ Forum (NSEF) meeting indicated advance knowledge of it.  DHET informed the 100+ delegates at the SU meeting that this provision had been discussed with university research offices prior to its being gazetted. Yet, not a single editor in the 300+ NSEF audience indicated prior knowledge of the new provision. If university research offices were indeed party to the new rule, then they should have consulted editors and faculties from their own institutions on the matter.

Now, I want to examine some of the other concerns of the DHET incentive policy at UKZN specifically.

•   In the early Natal University (NU) days of the incentive coming on stream in the late 1980s, authors publishing in established international journals not on the SAPSE (now DHET) lists were cross-subsidised by those that were.  Then, one day someone, with the stroke of pen, disqualified the “unaccredited” titles.

•   Thereafter, UKZN annual reports excluded publications that appear in journals that are not on any of the qualifying lists.   They are made invisible even as they may have global impact.

•   Small journals (in the rest of Africa and elsewhere) are excluded from DHET qualifying lists because they are not indexed on WoS, IBSS or Scopus.  Yet, these are the venues where much innovative work often occurs, and which significantly address local and regional issues. They are also the conduits to wider publishing repertoires. I am thinking here of the now defunct African Council for Communication Education’s Africa Media Review published from Nairobi, which had enormous cache within and beyond Africa. African Communication Research, edited by a scholar of global import, is a product of St Augustine’s University, Tanzania, and is pan-African in scope.  The new East African Journal of Communication is offering its editors and authors’ exposure and creating a sense of regional identity, around and through which research collectives and societies can form.

Critical Arts started as a small, cottage-industry, composed on a golf ball typewriter in my Wits office in 1980. Ntongela Masilela, then a cultural activist in exile, identified the journal as leading the awakening of African historical cultural consciousness.  As editor, I was chief cook and bottle washer: I typed, typpexed and proofed, addressed and stamped the envelopes, and pounded the streets to local bookshops which sold thousands of copies. 

The very first volume was graced by later Nobel Laureates such as Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee.  Andre Brink contributed an article, and a young writer and editorial board member, Ndjabulo Ndebele, later become a vice chancellor – at two different universities.  Critical Arts neither sought accreditation, nor was offered this status until the early 1990s, as we did not prior to 1990 want to be associated with this system of regulation/reward.   The journal is now global in scope, and since 2009 indexed on WoS, and has published Stuart Hall, Anthony Bogues, Ndebele, John Saul, Sabelo Gatsheni-Ndlovu and an interview with Pierre Bourdieu.  Amongst other Critical Arts authors have been A-rated scholars, a trade unionist and later a cabinet minister.  We all once started out young, emergent and hungry – and small.

So the question is, how does a new journal not only get started, but adopted and indexed?  How does a community of writers grow with a journal?  How does a journal grow a field? 

Until the conundrum of the small journal is resolved by DHET in consultation with universities (and their faculty), my challenge to UKZN is that it at least) list publications that are not accredited in its annual report; ii) that such work be recognised in performance management KPAs.

A broader national discussion is required on whether and how DHET might recognise small journals.  Since most are in the humanities, an immediate solution that I suggested at the SU seminar was to include the Modern Languages Association (MLA) list. MLA was one of the first lists to recognise Critical Arts when it was a small journal.  And, MLA is obviously not blind to the Humanities.

•   Keyan G Tomaselli is Distinguished Professor, University of Johannesburg and a UKZN Professor Emeritus and Fellow.   For more on the SU seminar see:  http://www0.sun.ac.za/scicom/?news=dynamics-scholarly-publishing-global-trends-local-responses

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the author’s own.

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