Access to Academia

One of the things you discover as a research student is the importance of ‘getting published’ and getting accepted to conferences and events. When you have an interest, as I do, in the underlying issues of ‘open access’ to knowledge and indeed access to intellectual opportunities regardless of means, it’s a fun little laboratory altogether.

Take for example this petition (with the wonderful URL of ec-petition.eu!) jointly published by JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee, UK), SURF (Netherlands), SPARC Europe, DFG (Deutsches Forschungsgemeinschaft, Germany), DEFF (Danmarks Elektroniske Fag- og Forskningsbibliotek, Denmark).

Now, a year after publication of the Study, we urge the EC to endorse the recommendations in full. In particular, we encourage you to adopt the first recommendation as a matter of urgency:

RECOMMENDATION A1. GUARANTEE PUBLIC ACCESS TO PUBLICLY-FUNDED RESEARCH RESULTS SHORTLY AFTER PUBLICATION

The petition calls on the European Commission to act upon its own January 2006 report on scientific publications (‘scientific’, in this context, being the Euroenglish definition that refers to advanced academia in general).

Seeing this sort of effort from broad-based research councils and organisations gives me hope. Then I come across things like this. The 16th International Conference on Information Systems Development (ISD2007) is taking place here in Ireland later this year. I received the call for papers with attention drawn to the stream/topic on ‘legal and administrative aspects of ISD’, so I went to have a look. My schedule of conference applications is fairly well set at this stage, but it can’t hurt to check, and perhaps to consider a journey west to attend/listen?

The conference fees for ISD2007 are as follows:

Early Registration (before July 18, 2007) € 390
Late Registration (after July 18, 2007) € 425
On-site Registration € 440
The conference fees cover proceedings, tea / coffee / lunch, and conference banquet. Please note that all delegates must pay full fees; no concession scheme applies to any category.

Normally in the case of high fees, I’d send a quick email to see if any assistance or reduction would be available for students/young scholars/etc. Hell, I’m normally happy to skip the fancy dinner and grab a bite elsewhere; I’m not at the stage of attending conferences for the contents of the (invariably bland) catering service. That blunt ‘no concession scheme applies to any category‘, though, makes me think there’s no point in bothering.

What sort of sign does that send out to researchers, students and early-career academics who live in the real world? That they are not welcome? That this, like so many conferences, is ‘pay for play’? That for a (maximum) three-day event, the four hundred yo-yos must be paying for an awful lot of mineral water and biscuits? Plus travel and accommodation, of course. At that cost, I could fly to the East Coast of the US, attend Yale’s huge symposium on open standards and even pick up a branded mug on the way out.

Pricing new voices out of conferences is the direct opposite to what the research councils are trying to do with open access. It seems, sometimes, that for every victory or piece of good news, you notice another problem or barrier that is yet to be solved.

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