This year, the theme for Open Access Week internationally is Generation Open. At Creative Commons Aotearoa NZ, we’re celebrating that by taking a look at why Kiwi students need Open Access to research.

At its heart, the argument for free student access to published scholarly research is this: students need access to the best and most up-to-date knowledge in order to learn, and get the best possible return on their investment in their own higher education. Producing highly educated, well-informed citizens is in everyone’s best interests and has huge knock-on benefits, from increased innovation in business to better public policy.

Currently, though, there are significant financial and technical barriers to the Open Access goal of all scholarly information being freely and immediately available online. Higher education institutions (HEIs) — even the rich ones — often can’t afford the wide range of journal subscriptions required by students, and this problem gets worse for smaller HEIs with smaller budgets.

This isn’t just a problem for students doing their own research, it’s also a problem for their teachers. If lecturers and professors can’t access the latest information and ideas, they can’t teach them to their students. It’s also a problem after graduation. Suddenly, the limited access to research students did have through whatever their HEIs could afford is withdrawn. This severely compromises the contribution graduates are able to make in their chosen fields.

The original aim of scholarly publishing is to spread knowledge. Closer to home, the goals of the NZ Education Act are to maintain, advance, and assist in the application of knowledge, to develop intellectual independence, and to promote community learning. At Creative Commons Aotearoa, we believe that an essential step in achieving those goals is Open Access to research. Open Access ensures students’ learning isn’t artificially limited by the subscriptions their HEIs happen to be able to afford, and it means that wealth and geography are no longer barriers to the knowledge and learning from which the whole of NZ society benefits.

For Open Access Week 2014, we celebrate the development of the Open Access Button, an online tool developed by students for students that helps overcome some of the technological barriers to research by helping locate free copies of scholarly research online.

Here in Aotearoa, we celebrate the three Kiwi Universities that are actively working towards enabling free student access to knowledge: Waikato, Lincoln and Canterbury. Read more about their journeys here (Waikato), here (Lincoln) and here (Canterbury). Now we call for all Kiwi HEIs — universities, colleges, polytechnics — to follow suit.

Elizabeth Heritage is the Communications Lead at Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand.

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