When a University of Auckland researcher tried to find out how much New Zealand universities spend on subscriptions to journals, it took him more than three years and a great deal of persistence, because universities refused to release the information.
The researcher, Dr Mark C Wilson, had to use freedom of information laws and make a complaint to the Ombudsman to find out that NZ universities paid almost US$15 million in 2016 to just four publishers.
In a recent article at The Conversation (read it here), Wilson argues that “the restricted access inherent in the subscription model makes it hard for journalists, politicians and the general public to use scholarship for better evidence-based decision making”.
Such concerns are particularly relevant for inquiries relating to the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, according to Dr Mark J Lock, Founder and Director of Committix Pty Ltd, who writes below that “locked-up knowledge” is impeding the development of culturally safe healthcare.
Mark Lock writes:
Recently I sought Australian academic journal articles on the topic of cultural safety and security, and found 26 journal articles: 16 of them cost $563 (range from $4 to $71) and 10 were free open access.
I thought that this locked-up knowledge contributes to the inequity in health for Australia’s First Peoples because it restricts access to knowledge that could be used in evidence-base for decision-making and resource allocation.
For example, I had wondered why Australian policy contributing to cultural safety and security (table 1, below) had no underpinning literature review and limited evidence base for the long list of domains, strategies, and actions contained within them. One of the barriers must be the cost of accessing journal articles.
Table 1: Australian Policy Initiatives contribution to cultural safety and security
|Cultural Respect Framework 2016-2026 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health||Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council, 2016||Click here.|
|Aboriginal Cultural Security Framework 2016-2026||Northern Territory, 2016||Click here.|
|Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Capability: A Framework for Commonwealth Agencies||Australian Public Service Commission, 2015||Click here.|
|Towards Culturally Appropriate and Inclusive Services 2014-2018||Australian Capital Territory, 2014||Click here.|
|WA Health Aboriginal Cultural Learning Framework 2012-2016||Western Australia, 2012||Click here.|
|Respecting the Difference-An Aboriginal Cultural Training Framework for NSW Health||NSW Health, 2011||Click here.|
|Queensland Health Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Capability Framework 2010-2033||Queensland, 2010||Click here.|
|Aboriginal Cultural Competence Framework, and Matrix
Victorian Government Aboriginal Inclusion Framework
|Victoria, 2008 and 2009||Click here.|
|Aboriginal Cultural Respect Framework 2007-2012||South Australia, 2007||Click here.|
Just a quick tour around some academic sites and you will find results that are interesting because they show the variability in paywall and open-access methods for journal articles.
- Find the Lowitja Institute’s Lit Search link and check ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health’ – it will open another web browser to show 673 Australian journal articles for the past year, and then checking ‘free full text’ shows 251 results.
- The 2017 Special Issue of Australian Psychologist with 8 journal articles (1 open access) with the next eight articles (including the editorial) each $USD38 to buy the PDF to download, or USD$304.
- Contrast point (2) to the free access to special issues of the Australian Family Physician (2014), and the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health’s special issue of July 2010 and special issue of April 2016, are open access.
- With the Australian Journal of Primary Health’s 2014 special issue: Health Promotion in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities with 11 articles cost a total of AUD$275.
- The Australian Health Review has a mixed pay-per-pdf or open access approach. For example AUD$25 for ‘I don’t know why they don’t come’: barriers to participation in cardiac rehabilitation’ although other articles are open access, for example, Evaluation of the First Strategic Plan for Aboriginal Health in South Western Sydney, 1993-98
Fortunately, I have colleagues at universities who can forward those costly articles to me, part of the elite academia involved in the knowledge production industry.
A moral obligation
And that recalls one of my favourite quotes from Maryann Bin-Sallik’s (2003) publication Cultural Safety: Let’s Name It! (AUD$25) in the context of institutional racism in Australian higher education organisations, that they “have a moral obligation to deconstruct what they are responsible for constructing in the first place”.
Perhaps Croakey readers can help me here, do Australian universities have policies where published knowledge about Australia’s First Peoples is free and open access?
But the bigger issue is that of an inequitable knowledge production industry because there are decades of past journal articles about Australia’s First Peoples that are still locked-up.
Therefore, I submit that all Australian universities develop an industry wide standard of knowledge governance so that Australia’s First Peoples can benefit from the power of unlocked knowledge.
• Follow on Twitter: @MarkJLock