Address at the opening session of the ‘Berlin 10 Open Access Conference’, Stellenbosch University
Thank you Programme Director, Ms. Ellen Tise,
Honourable hosts - Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University, Prof. Russel Botman and Vice-Rector Prof Eugéne Cloete,
Honourable European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Ms. Máire Geoghan-Quinn,
Ambassador of the EU Ronald van de Geer,
Distinguished researchers and scientists, sponsors and friends,
Enlarge image Ambassador Freitag addressing B10 Conference participants (© Stellenbosch University) I am honoured to join you today for the "Berlin 10 - Open Access Conference". Honoured, because Stellenbosch University has earned the status of being one of the top research institutions in South Africa, within Africa and globally. And it has the distinction of building sustainable knowledge partnerships in and with the local and global community.
As has been mentioned Stellenbosch University was also the first higher education institution in sub-Saharan Africa to sign the Berlin Declaration in October, 2010. In fact, Prof. Arnold van Zyl - whom it is always a pleasure to see again - signed the declaration on behalf of this university. Now, he is actively spreading the gospel of Open Access in his new role as Rector of the University of Chemnitz in Germany. The fact that Prof. van Zyl successfully competed against strong European contenders for this post underlines the academic excellence to be found in South Africa, and in particular, here in Stellenbosch. It also proves that Europeans can learn from distinguished Africans and that African universities are players in the world's knowledge production.
I also feel honoured to join you at this very special occasion marking the first "Open Access Conference" hosted on the African continent, the significance of which has already been duly emphasized. This offers a unique opportunity not only for Africa, but also for addressing major societal challenges facing all of us – including, for example, achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
Ambassador Freitag, EU Commissioner Geoghan-Quinn, Professors Botman and Cloete and other dignitaries at the B10 Conference
(© Stellenbosch University)
And I feel privileged to mark with you the 10th anniversary of the "Berlin Open Access Conference". I would like to thank all those who initiated this process, in particular the Max Planck Society, for assuming such a visionary leadership role by convening the first Open Access Conference in Berlin aimed at bringing down remaining walls.
I should confess that I am not a scientist. Not only am I not a scientist, but I am a trained lawyer. And I may not exactly make friends in this forum when saying that I specialized in anti-trust law, intellectual property rights and copyright law. Some of you might wonder whether you had more courage inviting me here today, or I had more courage accepting your invitation. But lawyers are not as one-dimensional as they may appear. Sometimes laws may slow the pace of necessary change, but laws are based on proven credentials. On this basis they can be a enablers for advancing the greater public good in an inclusive and sustainable way, as in the case of the open access endeavour.
Allow me to make a few brief remarks.
A responsible citizen of any country, any continent will readily acknowledge that education and knowledge, especially in the STEM-subjects, is what builds a nation. Without open access in our publicly-funded educational and research systems, no nation would flourish sustainably. Even if unlimited open access in our respective societies were a given, not a single nation acting alone or even several countries acting together could successfully meet the challenges we face today, such as climate change, famine, infectious diseases, depletion of natural resources, and global economic interdependency.
Enlarge image (© Stellenbosch University) Meeting these challenges requires an interdisciplinary approach that also cuts across geographical boundaries. Science and research must be an integral part of international exchange, based on a global network of partners in a knowledge-based community if we want to actively participate in seeking and achieving sustainable solutions. The ICT-revolution which is taking the world by storm has created huge opportunities for distance learning. And Open Access has widened its reach to even the most remote areas of our countries and continents. Vast ICT- opportunities entail the responsibility and duty to develop human and intellectual capital.
If “Open Access" in science and research is a powerful idea whose time has come, the challenge is not ”if“, but “how“ we are going to deal with it - without turning a blind eye to questions outside of our comfort zone.
Striking the delicate balance between transparency and free access to information on the one hand, and the intellectual property rights of knowledge creators on the other hand poses perhaps the major challenge. There is no doubt that innovation and knowledge creation are inextricably linked to access to information and education. But to the same extent they are also inextricably linked to the real economy, to financial and commercial imperatives - to business companies and cooperations, public-private-partnerships, including research institutions and also universities. The incentive for creating knowledge does not lie in scientific and intellectual pride alone. Creativity and turning research into applicable science and patents can also be of economic value for the inventor and scientist.
There is nothing romantic about the ICT-revolution. The internet serves powerful economic interests. Google, Apple and Microsoft will be the first to tell you that providing free or affordable access for the consumer is nonetheless a million dollar business. Corporations and internet providers are not always subject to checks and balances, nor to agreed legal frameworks or standards. Diplomats were not exactly amused to read their wikileaked cables online. Some may have been disappointed to discover their important confidential reports were not significant enough to have been published. But it is beyond debate that Wikileaks was a major internet disaster primarily driven by pure economic interest and without much sense of obligation towards society. Who controls the technical infrastructure, the access to and in the internet, in and to "open access" platforms, is an immensely important question.
View of the main campus of Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
This leads me to the challenge of assuring that Open Access platforms will deliver standards of high-level research quality, good scientific practice, well-managed repositories and that users will be educated in the ethical use of knowledge generated by another party.
All this illustrates – as, I am sure, you discussed during yesterday's pre-conference - that the practical implementation of Open Access is a complex issue. That it is imperative to create an appropriate environment for major stakeholders to operate not outside, but within accepted norms and values and for the public good.
The German government is currently introducing legislation guiding the implementation process of Open Access. It will take into account our constitutionally guaranteed rights, especially freedom of expression, freedom of scientific research and intellectual property rights. Against that background, the envisaged reform of our copyright and intellectual property law will, as a first step, most likely follow along the lines of the “Green Road” business model. Under this model it would grant the author the inalienable right to publish his work for scientific purposes even after having published it for the first time and even in case he has renounced copy- or intellectual property rights. Any scientist or researcher is free, of course, to directly publish his or her work in open access journals or platforms.
Acting within and actively promoting a common European legal framework for Open Access is another essential goal. I am sure Madam Commissioner will have more to say on this. I have not had “open access” to her key-note speech, but we do appreciate the guidelines and considerations that the Commission has made over the past years to member states.
(© Stellenbosch University)
In concluding, I would like to emphasize that Germany and the EU are strongly committed to cooperating with trusted African partners in establishing functional and productive "Science, Technology and Innovation" systems and networks. South Africa and Germany are currently co-hosting a joint Year of Science as part of our “Internationalisation Strategy for Education and Research“. As we speak, Germany and South Africa are conducting a joint workshop here at Stellenbosch on “IT-Based Technologies for Rural Health Care“. The exchange of people, ideas and knowledge are key elements of our cooperation within and beyond our bilateral Year of Science. Accordingly, the "Open Access" philosophy is perfectly in line with our key objectives.
When sharing a powerful idea whose time we believe has come, we obviously want to change society accordingly - and we want to change it now. Yet we realize that society does not always work that fast. The 10th anniversary of the Open Access Conference reminds us that time is of the essence. I commend you on your visionary approach, on your professionally-designed and successful experiment to build open access communities with trusted partners, to build on your encouraging experiences and to take this important endeavour forward in an inclusive manner.
In this spirit I wish all of you an inspiring and successful conference.