An Interview with Dr. Francis Jayakanth
India has been losing out its best talents to the West, however, this trend could be reversed if we create adequate number of world-class institutions and research facilities, and our scientific productivity and quality of research will improve significantly, says Dr. Francis Jayakanth in an email interview with the Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore.
- First of all congratulations for winning the inaugural EPT Award for Open Access.
Thank you very much.
- When did you first take an interest in Open Access and what are your research interests?
I have always been impressed with the electronic pre-print servers like the arXiv, Cogprints, etc. I wanted to do something similar for IISc research publications.
One of the important activities of the National Centre for Science (NCSI), Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has been the training programme. Till recently, NCSI was conducting an 18-month training course called Information and Knowledge Management. This was targeted primarily at students graduating from Indian library schools, with a view to providing them with classroom and practical training in the application of ICT. Essentially, the aim was to train the students in how to provide state-of-the-art, computer-based information services. I have been closely associated with this training programme by offering courses and overseeing projects.
As part of the training programme the students are expected do a project. Around the year 2001, one of our students, Mr. Madhuresh Singhal carried out a project work in implementing GNU Eprints.org software developed by the University of Southampton. Incidentally, ePrints is the first professional software platform for building high quality OAI-compliant repositories. The student project successfully demonstrated the self-archiving concept through institutional repositories. The project work was later implemented to set up the country’s first institutional repository, eprints@IISc . Ever since, I have been an OA practitioner and an OA advocate.
I’m not a hard-core researcher. My work interests lies in using free and open source software for providing web-based information services.
- Why Open Access is important to science and particularly India?
When researchers publish their works in journals and conference proceedings, they would want their works to be read, cited, and built upon by as wide an audience as possible. Much of the scientific publications are being published by commercial publishers. Subscription costs of such publications are very high, constantly increasing, and beyond the means of most of the libraries. The high subscription costs create an access barrier to the scientific literature because of which the publications do not get the kind of visibility that the researchers would like to. The lack of adequate visibility will reduce the potential impact of the publications. This in turn could affect the advancement of knowledge. It is therefore imperative that the access barrier to scientific literature created because of high subscription costs should be overcome and this could be achieved through OA publishing.
The problems with respect to research literature that India and other developing countries have always faced are two-fold:
- Not being able to access high quality scientific literature because of the high subscriptions costs, and
- Research reported in the national journals does not reach the global audience because most of the journals published from the country are not indexed by Web of Science (WoS) and/or Scopus databases, which are leading citation indexing databases.
- In terms of the number of papers published in refereed journals, the number of citations to these papers, citations per paper, and the number of international awards and recognitions won, India’s record is poor. What needs to be done to improve this?
For a long time now, our country has been losing out the best of the talents to mostly western and other countries. If this trend could be countered by the creation of adequate number of world-class institutions and research facilities, our country's scientific productivity and also quality of research done in the country will improve significantly. This may also trigger reverse brain-drain.
- Indian scientists lack access and visibility. They find it tough to access what other scientists have done, due to the high costs of access and libraries in India can’t afford to subscribe to key journals needed by users. Also other researchers are not able to access what Indian researchers are doing leading to low visibility. How can we overcome these deficits? Will adoption of Open Access within and outside India overcome the aforesaid handicaps?
Access to scientific literature in the country has improved significantly during the last decade or so. This is largely because of the several library consortia that have emerged in the country during that period. However, the existing consortia and the ones that are likely to emerge in the coming years, is not the solution for the access barrier to scientific literature that exists today. There has to be a world-wide adaptation of OA to overcome the access barrier.
- Do you support the movement towards making scientific publications as freely accessible as possible and create an institutional repository? What steps are being taken by the Indian Institute of Science to maintain an open access archive?
Yes. Open Access Journals and Open Access Archives or Institutional Repositories (IRs) are the two ways to facilitate OA to scholarly literature. As per the DOAJ statistics, today, there are close to 7500 peer reviewed OA journals and as per the Directory of Open Access Repositories (DOAR) there are more than 2770 institutional repositories across the world.
In a recent study, Bo-Christer Bjork estimated that the overall percentage of scientific literature currently available OA is about 20 per cent. This includes both papers published in OA journals and those deposited in institutional repositories and directly on the Web. So, still a long way to go in achieving 100 per cent OA to scholarly literature! If all the research institutions set up their IRs and ensure that copies of post-prints are placed in the IRs then 100 per cent OA to scholarly literature could be achieved, at least, from now onwards.
ePrints@IISc, the OA institutional repository of IISc was established by NCSI in 2002. The repository holds more than 32,400 publications of IISc making the century-old institute’s research far more globally visible than before. NCSI has also provided technical help and support to several other institutes and universities in setting up their repositories and OA journals.
- What are the key challenges of the scholarly publications in India?
Poor visibility and readership of many of the journals published from the country affects the citations of the articles published in such journals. This in turn affects the impact factors (IF) of the journals. No author would like to publish in very low IF journals.
- What message would you give to funding agencies, the government and policy makers particularly for implementing a nation-wide mandate for Open Access?
Most of the research projects in the country are being funded by the government agencies. It is therefore imperative that we should have a nation-wide OA mandate for research publications that emerge from research projects funded from tax payers’ money. Such a mandate will not only help in enhancing the visibility of research done in the country; it may also help in avoiding duplication of research projects carried out in the country.