When we talk about increasing awareness of published materials, and of ensuring these can be accessed and used, we tend to think of this being mediated by the university library. Librarians undoubtedly play a vital role – not only in securing books and journals in the first instance, but in assisting colleagues and students to identify what they need for their work. But ultimately it’s those who are studying, writing essays, doing research, and eventually publishing their own work that we all need to reach: the students of today are the academics and the professionals of tomorrow.
In Kenya a student group has proved to be a particularly important voice in discussions around open access – the Medical Students Association of Kenya. As Daniel Mutonga of MSAKE argued at the third Open Access Africa conference in November “if your professors can’t read it, they can’t teach it”. What’s more, when newly qualified students move from universities into hospitals, it’s important that they stay up to date with the latest developments in their field.
Daniel was fresh from organising Open Access Week activities for health science students in universities that are members of the Medical Students’ Association of Kenya (MSAKE), where the theme was similar – access to research is a student’s right. In preparation for OA week a workshop provided a productive, training-of-trainers session. The trained members became ambassadors for OA during 3-day OA campaigns conducted in their own campuses in the following week. Daniel also presented at a workshop at the Jomo Kenyatta Memorial Library at the University of Nairobi on OA policies and the need for developing institutional repositories . Daniel later joined representatives from SPARC, Rights to Research Coalition and 150 other delegates at the Berlin 10 Conference in Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Students were again recognized as key stakeholders in Open Access Advocacy in research and training institutions.
Coming from the UK it’s hard to imagine students mobilising around access to academic journals – but MSAKE’s success in engaging the Kenyan student community around something which so fundemantally underpins the quality of their education, and their future academic and professional potential, suggests that students are a group we certainly need to be talking to.