Students join access debate

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The previous few weeks have seen an important shift in how students interact with and shape the world of scholarly communication with the release of a statement calling for broader access to scholarly knowledge.

A group of six national and local American student associations, representing both graduates and undergraduates, have come together to issue the Student Statement on the Right to Research. This statement calls on researchers, universities, and governments to take relevant steps to increase access to the results of research.

In the past, discourse on scholarly publication and open access (OA) has largely been between academics, librarians, and publishers.  This resolution marks students’ entry into the discussion. It reflects the large impact that limited access to research can have on students of all disciplines.

Limited access can cause students to settle for what is available rather than what is best. This puts students at smaller institutions that cannot afford multi-million dollar journal budgets at a disadvantage. It is especially true in fields like neurology or physics where access to cutting edge research is both the most expensive and the most necessary to one’s training.  The new generation of scholars has grown up using the internet and having access to whatever information they need whenever they need it. Not having the same kind of unfettered access to information that is critical for their professional development is especially frustrating.

Gavin Baker, a leader in bringing the student statement to life, sees the student response as extremely positive: ‘I've been so encouraged by the growing student awareness that OA is a better option, and especially by their enthusiasm to do something about it.  The groups endorsing this statement represent a broad array of student interests, and we expect even more groups to follow in the months to come.’

The statement has resonated with students in the USA but, while the current signatories are American, the resolution is not exclusive in its focus. It has also generated interest from students in Canada and across Europe and we look forward to reaching out to international student organisations in the near future.  Just as OA must expand beyond those universities that have established OA policies, there must be a strong international focus. This would mean that we could harness research on a global scale and not limit ourselves to the research of a few countries.  Students and scholars alike will benefit by more freely being able to explore parallel work by researchers both in other countries and in similar but distinct fields of study.

As we move forward, we hope to use this statement as a rallying point for students to get engaged with the OA movement and as a solid foundation on which to build a rich student voice on OA.  The coming year should provide plentiful opportunities for students to join the conversation and make a positive contribution to this ongoing discussion.

Nick Shockey is student outreach fellow of Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)