A Student-Led Movement for a University Open Access Policy

Having been a supporter of open access to research and scholarship for a dozen years now, I sometimes think that I have seen it all, from brilliant strategies to collegial indifference. Thus my surprise and delight, when I recently had the chance to meet Goldis Chami and Gordana Panic at the University of British Columbia to talk about their efforts, as students, to bring about open access to the work published by faculty and graduate students at UBC. Goldis, a second-year medical student, and Gordana, a recent graduate in Biology and Psychology, explained to me that they were determined to see greater public access to research and scholarship at UBC. 

To that end, they were meeting with student organizations and sitting on faculty and librarian committees, looking for ways of promoting a policy at UBC by which all of the faculty and graduate students would do their best to make copies of their published work freely available. While admirable efforts in this direction have been underway at UBC for some time, as well as at other institutions, the degree of student initiative and engagement at UBC, thanks to the efforts of this student and alum, gives this issue a whole new impetus.

Goldis and Gordana see their involvement in open access as a natural extension of their work with the student-led organization Universities Allied for Essential Medicines. In 2008, the local UAEM chapter was able to convince UBC in 2008 to adopt Global Access Licensing principles that ensure that medicines and other related technologies will be licensed to low and middle income countries at affordable prices. They write that “in discovering that access to journal articles was hugely restricted for certain groups including alumni, the general public, journalists, policy-makers, and researchers and professionals in low- and middle-income countries, the thought process that led to our work around OA was this: ‘If UBC can make patented technologies more accessible, why not information?’” 

This was not an idle or passing question on their part. To learn more about this lack of access to knowledge, they sought out various UBC activist-scholars on this question, including Dr. Anita Palepu, Co-Editor-in-Chief of Open Medicine and medical faculty member and Joy Kirchner, Librarian (Collections, Licenses & Digital Scholarship), to learn more about the issue. And then they took action. 

They are focusing their efforts on the faculty adoption of an open access policy. Such open access policies have been passed by faculty members at Harvard, Stanford, Concordia, MIT, and elsewhere. Under these policies, faculty members agree that with each article published in the journal of their choice, a copy of the final draft is made freely available through the university’s repository.

To date, Goldis and Gordana have approached and received support for such an open access policy at UBC from the university’s Alma Mater Society, Graduate Student Society, Science Undergraduate Society, Arts Undergraduate Society, Pharmacy Undergraduate Society, and Medical Undergraduate Society. 

It seems that these two inspired leaders are on their way to mustering a great deal of student for this policy initiative. This expression of student interest may be just what the faculty members and librarians who have also been working toward this goal need to mobilize the entire faculty body at UBC. 

These students are struggling to advance a human right to know what is known, especially when that knowledge was produced as a matter of public trust and as a public good. They are not the only students now involved in these efforts today. The Right to Research Coalition is supporting student involvement in open access across the continent. But then, Goldis and Gordana are not concentrating their efforts solely on UBC, as they have given talks at Simon Fraser University on this theme.

As a long-time educator, I could not be prouder to see a body of students caring this much about the public’s right to this knowledge. What more could these students possibly say about the value they place on the knowledge that universities are engaged in so carefully and diligently producing? What more could UBC faculty members do, in crediting this interest in learning (which is necessary, after all, for the public support of research), than to bring forward an open access policy through their respective faculties, schools, and departments? Such a policy would forcefully and openly declare their commitment to sharing what they have learned on a global scale.

Stay tuned. We have not heard the last of Goldis Chami and Gordana Panic, and the greater public good that they are determined to realize.


  1. See:

    The University’s Mandate to Mandate Open Access
    by Stevan Harnad

    SUMMARY: Open Access (OA) will not come until universities, the research-providers, make it part of their mandate not only to publish their research findings, as now, but also to see to it that the few extra keystrokes it takes to make those published findings OA — by self-archiving them in their institutional repositories, free for all online — are done too. Students are in a position to help convince their universities to go ahead and mandate OA self-archiving, at long last.

  2. This is a wonderful story.

    May I humbly offer a link to a proposed open access policy we are working on here at the University of Canberra. Points of difference to your US references:

    Indigenous autonomy
    Staff and student ownership
    Creative Commons default, with opt out options

    A proposed policy for IP at the University of Canberra.