Open Access Scholarship

Some years ago, Prof. Shalini Urs of the University of Mysore made a concerted effort to aggregate one aspect of Indian scholarship through the Vidyanidhi project. Vidyanidhi (Meaning ‘Treasure of Knowledge’ in Sanskrit) is India’s premier Digital library initiative to facilitate the creation, archiving and accessing of doctoral theses. Vidyanidhi is an information infrastructure, a digital library, a portal of resources, tools and facilities for doctoral research in India. Vidyanidhi is envisioned to evolve as a national repository and a consortium for e-theses through participation and partnership with universities, academic institutions and other stake holders. Vidyanidhi enhances access to Indian theses and enlarges the reach and audience for Indian doctoral research works.

Sadly, this has not worked as well as it should have. Most Universities did not, as a matter of policy, join the effort, citing any number of reasons, some of which were anything but reasonable. There is a plaintive plea on the Vidyanidhi site,

We welcome and encourage universities to participate in this collaborative initiative. Our initiative will be strengthened only by your cooperation and participation. Please do join us.

Why should you join us?

  • Vidyanidhi will archive your theses. Vidyanidhi Server is your Dissertatations Server.
  • Vidyanidhi will help your doctoral students to write better thesis.
  • Vidyanidhi will help you improve the quality of your doctoral programme by developing common frameworks and standards for theses.
  • Vidyanidhi will enhance your institution’s visibility in the academic milieu
  • Vidyanidhi will help to get your theses be part of Global ETD collection.
  • Vidyanidhi will train your doctoral students in E-thesis and E-Publishing, helping them to transit to the emerging new E-Paradigm of academic work and scholarship
  • Vidyanidhi will help your students to reinforce their e-publishing knowledge and skills through our online tutorials and manuals.

However, the UGC has now stepped in, and made it mandatory that University theses be made available online, though not necessarily in one place, thereby (and as usual) frittering away our scholarship in dribs and drabs.

I was reminded of this last week when I had to go over some questions raised in our own community, where a student raised serious objections to the fact that his thesis had, in accordance with UGC requirements, been made accessible to the public at large. One would have thought- given the fury of his RTI queries- that he had been intellectually violated in some way, rather than, as I believe the situation is, that
  1. his scholarship was funded by the public and therefore deserves to be made known to them, and that
  2. he has a moral obligation to make it widely known, and further, that
  3. this openness enhances his visibility, and therefore his relevance.
One of the people who has been clamouring for such openness in scholarship is Subbaiah Arunachalam at the M S Swaminathan Foundation. In a mail sent out today, he alerts us to a decision by Princeton University to put ALL their scholarly publications online and OA. The post by Andrew Appel discusses this in detail, and the gist of it is that
“The members of the Faculty of Princeton University strive to make their publications openly accessible to the public. To that end, each Faculty member hereby grants to The Trustees of Princeton University a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license to exercise any and all copyrights in his or her scholarly articles published in any medium, whether now known or later invented, provided the articles are not sold by the University for a profit, and to authorize others to do the same. This grant applies to all scholarly articles that any person authors or co-authors while appointed as a member of the Faculty, except for any such articles authored or co-authored before the adoption of this policy or subject to a conflicting agreement formed before the adoption of this policy. Upon the express direction of a Faculty member, the Provost or the Provost’s designate will waive or suspend application of this license for a particular article authored or co-authored by that Faculty member.

“The University hereby authorizes each member of the faculty to exercise any and all copyrights in his or her scholarly articles that are subject to the terms and conditions of the grant set forth above. This authorization is irrevocable, non-assignable, and may be amended by written agreement in the interest of further protecting and promoting the spirit of open access.”

Where do we stand on the issue of Open Access? I believe that it would be useful to evolve a policy on this matter since- as we so often proudly proclaim- our intellectual output grows each year and has increasing impact. It should be possible to safeguard our intellectual properties while sharing the fruits of this largely public funded research.


12 thoughts on “Open Access Scholarship

  1. I think joining the Vidynanidhi Project would be a welcome move. If we have all the thesis of our university at least on one common open source this will be of great benefit and bring in a lot of visibility. Now with the UGC requirement of making the thesis available on line we could explore the possibility of having them at one place. Education has the potential to act as a catalyst for wider progress across the globe and in today’s globalised world in the new knowledge economy and the information society that we live in the key point is an interconnected world where resources such as know-how are as important as having other economic resources. Let us start by sharing these. The digital and information revolution has changed the way the world learns and communicates. We need to move with the times and share our knowledge. I am aware of the dangers of plagiarism and other issues but these should not deter us in the face of the larger good.

  2. Dear Ram:

    I want to comment on your statement “However, the UGC has now stepped in, and made it mandatory that University theses be made available online, though not necessarily in one place, thereby (and as usual) frittering away our scholarship in dribs and drabs.”

    Even if theses are made available in DIFFERENT repositories, one can still access them all if all the repositories are interoperable. Indeed Stevan Harnad, one of the earliest to talk about open access (recall his article on scholarly skywriting), advocates that scientists and students deposit the full text of their research publications in THEIR OWN INSTITUTIONAL REPOSITORIES. If these repositories are set up using standard software (e.g. the free to download EPrints developed at the University of Southampton), then they become automatically interoperable! A searcher looking for a dissertation using a keyword will not know from where the resulting records have come. The whole world is your oyster, as they say.

    Princeton, MIT, Harvard and many other US universities have their own OA repositories and NOT a common US repository. The same is the case in the UK and Europe. If need be we may have a harvester for all Indian OA repositories (as has been attempted by NCSI-IISc).


    • Having interoperable repositories in the US and interoperable repositories in India are very
      different things. Try to access the website of UoH and JNU and you will see the differences
      in speed and navigability. I am not even mentioning the more obviously difficult sites, like
      that of Universities in the Northeast, or State Universities, or those with multiple languages.

      What is great for MIT and Harvard is really of no consequence here.


  3. Pingback: Open Access Scholarship : CDS-KNRaj Library

  4. Interoperable repositories do not distinguish between their locations. For a searcher all of them put together will look like a single aggregated worldwide repository. One does not have to go to the JNU or UoH server to access your papers. If we give a keyword all the relevant papers (including your papers) will come on the screen. Yes, some servers in some (or many) Indian universities are slow. But that is the situation today. With Moore’s law operating all the time, prices of computers and servers are constantly falling and the power of these devices are constantly increasing. The UGC or DST can provide the meagre funds needed to upgrade these servers.



    I just wish to confirm the point made by Subbiah Arunachalam: He is absolutely right. Bandwidth and connectivity might vary locally, and that is an infrastructural problem. But insofar as open access — free online access — is concerned, the optimal strategy is unaffected: Deposit institutionally, harvest centrally. Users search and access via the central harvesters, but authors provide the content locally:

    The principal reason for this is explained here:
    “How to Integrate University and Funder Open Access Mandates”

    That said, if any researcher lacks an institutional repository, or an institution, they can deposit in any of several central repositories created specifically for that purpose, such as

    If they lack local web access altogether, then that is another matter, of course.

    Stevan Harnad
    EnablingOpenScholarship (EOS)

  6. Pingback: Open Access Scholarship « A central Central University

  7. Nowadays, people work for a very short time (two months a year for two or three years) and at the end of this have a PhD. Of course, there may be one or two really good people who can do path breaking work in four to six months, but I am sure you will agree that this time period is,on an average, just enough for getting to know your problem and reading up literature on it. This happens a lot in affiliated colleges where getting a PhD is important for getting a particular scale of pay and the university understands this and awards the degree. Do you think the scholars and the university will like such theses to be out in the world for all to see?

  8. Arun is quite right on the interoperable repositories. Essentially the metadata is searchable across repositories.

    Put me in touch with someone at UoH who is dealing with the local Institutional Repositories – I will organise the JNU one. It has been long in the pipeline, and best to get it going rather than wait for someone else to do it. Maybe we can set a target to get this up so that you can announce it at your meeting on Open Access on November 1st.


    • Either UoH could invite Andrew or engage Muthu Madhan of ICRISAT, Patancheru, to set up the interoperable repository. There are many others who have the needed expertise and prior experience, such as Francis Jayakanth of IISc. There is no need for endless discussion. As the famous shoe company ad says, ‘Just do it.’ Open Access Week is just four days away, October 24 and 30.
      Representatives of all CSIR labs are meeting tomorrow in Goa, ahead of the OA Week, to discuss how they could implement OA in all CSIR labs. It will be great if the Director General of CSIR announces a policy of OA mandate for CSIR during the OA week.

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