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OpenUCT’s Access Challenge

Published Jul 21, 2014, 6:09pm
Participants hard at work

One of the greatest challenges in raising awareness around open access is engaging students in a meaningful and productive way. Last year at the OpenUCT Initiative we were faced with this task. Most students take access for granted until they leave their respective tertiary institutions and are confronted with nasty pay-walls. Panel discussions, information sessions and debates fail to entice students. So how do we expose students to the lack of access, or as I like to call to “lackcess”, they will experience once they are handed their degrees and sent on their way? Our answer was the Access Challenge.

The idea for the Access Challenge stemmed from open and closed medical and scientific studies run concurrently to see which of the two was more successful. Studies that were open to the public domain concluded faster and were more successful, this is because more people were allowed to access the study, to test results and contribute and critique the process. With this in mind, we at the OpenUCT Initiative based the Access Challenge on the open-versus-closed study design.

Four laptops were setup in a highly trafficked campus space– two laptops were linked to the University of Cape Town network, while the other two were not. We purchased internet bundles for the laptops deprived of campus network access. Questions were set whereby students were asked to access certain papers, or answer questions trapped behind pay-walls. Those without UCT network access struggled to answer many questions and access certain journals, while those with campus access breezed through the challenge without any fuss.

The challenge attracts a crowd

Once the challenge was complete we asked students what they thought of the exercise. These were some of the responses:

"Access outside the confines and privileges of UCT can be challenging."

"Academic institutions access to journals is very helpful. Personally, I cannot afford to pay."

"Individual articles are expensive and sometimes reading the you the wrong idea.”

Instead of preaching to students about Open Access, we got students to think about it for themselves. This exercise raised the awareness we struggled to achieve in other forums with students.

Please feel free to appropriate a similar strategy during your OA Week activities and let us know how it goes. If you would like to see what else we got up to during OA Week 2013, visit

If you have any questions or concerns please contact me at:

Posted on behalf of the Author: Uvania Naidoo

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