Report Open Access

The African University Press

Van Schalkwyk, Francois; Luescher, Thierry

While there are new and enabling conditions for university presses to increase production and to widen distribution, the question remains: How can African university presses make the most of these opportunities? Most likely, the answer lies in deploying the technological changes in production, distribution and marketing made possible by digitisation and network effects of the internet. 

At the same time, propelled by a growing perception in academia of ‘robber capitalism’ on the part of publishers as they protect their oligopoly in the face of dissolving spatial barriers and diminishing value add, we are witnessing a contrary trend: the emergence of the knowledge commons. However, this emergence takes place in an institutional context long dominated by an editorial logic and, in more recent times, by the logic of the market. 

A holistic way of approaching the question of how African university presses can reposition themselves in support of the broader shift of some African universities towards a greater focus on research, is to consider shifts in the dominant institutional logic in the academic publishing industry. Based on a baseline survey of university presses in Africa, in-depth case studies of selected university presses, and an analysis of the publishing choices made by African academics, this research project examined the opportunities and constraints faced by university presses in Africa. 

It provides an overview of the African university press landscape and shows that there is a small, active group of university presses. University presses in Africa are not yet making use of technological advances to reconfigure their production, distribution and marketing processes, nor are they experimenting with new publishing models such as open access. While case studies of selected university presses surfaced unsurprising challenges (such as scarce resources and limited capacity), they also show that university presses in Africa are constrained by institutional logics that are holding them back from experimenting with new ways of doing things.The research also reveals that an alarmingly high number of academic authors at one flagship research university in Africa are choosing to publish monographs with predatory publishers. The report concludes with a set of pragmatic recommendations; recommendations that are simultaneously attuned to the opportunities and to the realities of African university presses as revealed by the research conducted.

An African Minds research report.
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