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The Face of Academic Copyright & Sci-Hub: A Quick Look with Reference to the Open Access Button, Academia.edu and ResearchGate Sites

21 Mar

Over at Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week (SVPotW) there have been a number of posts recently discussing scholarly copyright with reference to recent media and general academic attention paid to the pirate site Sci-Hub, where any number of academic articles (47 million and counting) can be searched for, and read, for free.  The site is of great boon to people such as myself, who currently hold no ‘proper’ researcher status and lack academic affiliation (alongside the access to journals that goes along with that), and to pretty much everyone you can think of who isn’t involved firsthand with research itself or affiliated to an academic or scientific institution.  From politicians who implement international and national regulations and guidelines to families who want to learn more about a specific disease and health treatments, those individuals who want to make informed choices but find that knowledge and research is locked away behind paywalls each and every day unless you can afford to pay a substantial sum for access, or are a current university student or researcher and have validated affiliation.  Those higher education institutions themselves are, of course, paying heavily to maintain access to the journals for their students, researchers and staff members.

Lets not twist words though, Sci-Hub infringes copyright on a huge scale by illegally granting access to the articles it has access to.  This goes markedly against the grain of academic publishing, where normal publishing procedures include authors, the creators of the content and research, handing over scholarly copyright (and sometimes even money!) to the publisher as part and parcel of publicizing their work to the wider academic community.  It is also a world where paywalls are de rigueur across access to many articles published online in academic journals.  (This is, as SVPotW points out, the opposite of creative copyright where the author of the work generally retains copyright).  Access to both full journals and individual articles can be costly, as are annual subscriptions to such material.  Academic book publications, both single authored and edited volumes, are also noticeably expensive, prohibitively so to individuals who are merely interested in reading about a subject in greater depth and to students who receive little public or private funding.

But since this is a blog primarily interested in archaeology and human skeletal remains from the past, let us first take a look at a few bioarchaeological examples to see how much it can cost to access knowledge within the discipline. Afterwards I’ll discuss some options available for both the reader and researcher of such material with regards to accessing and producing the material.

To Buy or Not to Buy: A Bioarchaeology Example

A book I have recommended on this site for budding bioarchaeologists, The Routledge Handbook of the Bioarchaeology of Human Conflict (ed. by Knusel, C. & Smith, M. 2013, published by Routledge), costs £150.00 in hardback or £142.50 for a Kindle e-book (who needs good quality images!).  Another book I have mentioned on this site, and which I do heartily recommend, is Bioarchaeology: An Integrated Approach to Working with Human Remains (by Martin, D. L., Harrod, R. P. & Pérez, V. R. 2014, published by Springer) which, in hardback, retails for £84.53, paperback for £36.99, and in Kindle e-book form for £35.14.  All of these prices are taken from a popular online source of cheap books.  They are not cheap.  They are even more expensive on the publishers’ homepage (again, for example, the Bioarchaeology: An Integrated Approach publication retails for £117.00 on Springer’s own site for both hardcover and paperback volumes, or you can purchase individual chapters for £23.94).

Life at the Trowels Edge: Archaeology as Employment

It is a notorious joke that archaeology, as a commercial sector and as a profession, can be poorly paid compared to similar skilled sectors even though the staff are often highly educated and indeed highly skilled.  It is worth checking out Doug’s Archaeology entry on British Archaeology Jobs 2014-15 for a glimpse of the bounties that await those who dig, analyse or plan for a living, but remember this is before any consideration is made on the physical and mental toll that life as an archaeologist can take on a person over time.  (On a related side, currently archaeology isn’t very diverse either).

Although the archaeology commercial and academic sector is the target audience for such specialized publications, academic books (minus popular archaeology books) and journal articles can be, and are often are, prohibitively expensive to a large proportion of its core audience, as exampled above.  There are of course exceptions to this, but they are rare for seriously detailed archaeology publications.  The below (Figure 1 & 2) is something which I find frankly ridiculous and leads me to wonder if anyone buys an academic article from the publisher themselves, or whether the paywall is just there to part the fool from their money?

book review 31 50 dollars

Figure 1. To access this book review of Barrett & Armelagos’s  (2013) An Unnatural History of Emerging Infections on the International Journal of Palaeopathology’s (IJPP) journal site costs $31.50 (£22.26) for a one time download of the article. (Click to enlarge the image).

book book

Figure 2. To buy a firsthand copy of the An Unnatural History of Emerging Infections book online (with free international postage) it costs $27.15 (£19.99), a saving of $4.25 (£3.06) on accessing and reading the book review if you were not subscribed to the International Journal of Palaeopathology (or a member of the Palaeopathology Association for $65.00/£45.94 for a years subscription, which includes access to the IJPP). (Click to enlarge the image).

So, what are some of the options available for the reader and for the researcher who want to use, access and contribute to making knowledge open access? And what is open access any-how?

Open Access: Bits and Pieces

A relatively new movement, generally titled under the Open Access (OA) term, has been slowly building across the globe since the coalescence of its origins across a number of public statements and conferences from various academic and institution organisations that were made in 2002-2003 (see OA history here).  Generally speaking, the open access movement sees the paywalling of research as a major international problem as many researchers and non-researchers believe intellectual knowledge, and the information generated from scientific research (which can often be funded by taxpayer money via distributive research councils) more generally, should not be copyrighted and should be openly disseminated as a matter of course.  This involves both unrestricted access and unrestricted reuse.  I’ve stated that the movement, as academics would largely recognize the ‘Open Access’ movement, started in the early years of the 21st century yet it is also well-known that there have been various discipline, or research specific, open access track routes open for a good number of decades now.

What we have seen within the past few decades is a growth in the general international understanding of what open access is and what its general aims are.  With a number of major research journals (see a few paragraphs below) opening up their archives and making some of their current journal content open access, we are seeing a movement that has had influence on major publishers of research and influence on the researchers who both write and choose where to publish their research and how to publish it.  Not all research is capable of being openly published due to a number of reasons (again, some outlined below), but a general move towards the ability to freely access that information has taken hold within the digital age.  This is not without precedent or without congruence within digital media and the issues of access to that material – one only has to look at the damage that illegally downloading music and films has done, and continues to do, to those areas. (There is a handy metaphor here with the online music content providers of Tidal, Deezer or Youtube providing varying models of access – pick your poison!).  However innovation and invigoration can drive change within seemingly disparate media formats.

Open Access Button

From its launch in November 2013 the Open Access Button is an application aimed at enabling the public, students and researchers access to scholarly research and to report it when the research is blocked by a paywall.  The brainchild of Joseph McArthur and David Carroll, the Open Access Button aims to highlight to users were paywalled research may be legally available elsewhere on the web and also lets users report which articles are not free and for what purpose the individual wanted to access the paper (Figure 3).

Open access Button

Figure 3. The three stages of the Open Access Button and how it works. The button aims to promote the use of access to academic research across the globe. Image screenshot taken from website here. (Click to enlarge the image).

It really is that simple but this little button has been a fantastic addition to my own internet browser for when I cannot access research and I really do recommend its use.  The makers of the button, and the largely voluntary team that help keep it running, state that it is not a long-term solution and support advocacy to help promote the issues that open access faces within the academic and business worlds.

Academia & ResearchGate

There are also the social media sites available for scientists and researchers to join, in which the general public can also join or view research articles on.  Two of the most prominent and widely used are the United States based Academia.edu and the German based ResearchGate sites, both of which launched online in 2008 and which offer free access to researchers profiles where book chapters, articles, theses and dissertations can be uploaded, viewed and downloaded by the sites users.  Both sites are free to join and are geared towards similar audiences, including academic and corporate researchers and the larger medical world.  Academia boasts a total of 34 million plus academics using its website (as of March 2016) whilst ResearchGate has a user base of around 9 million plus (again March 2016).  Academia hosts more than 10 million plus scientific papers whilst according to the business fact sheet ResearchGate host 81 million plus publications.

It should be noted here that these sites operate as great content providers of published and non-published academic research, however not each title is necessarily uploaded as anyone who has had the frustrating feeling of finding a dream paper only to find the author hasn’t uploaded it will recall.  (Papers can be handily requested from the author themselves however).  The sites are also fairly great at leveling the playing field of being able to distribute unpublished research from relatively junior researchers, especially of theses and undergraduate/postgraduate dissertations, or the work of independent researchers.

As a pair the sites seek to distribute knowledge of scientific research and aim to help users of the sites to create research networks across the globe, which increase the spread and depth of knowledge.  Interestingly, although the Academia site ends in the .edu suffix it is not affiliated with any academic institution per se and instead receives a portion of its funding instead from venture capitalists or angel investors, just like ResearchGate, who invest in or provide financial backing for the company.

Returning to Sci-Hub & Digital Rights

Sci-Hub isn’t particularly a new site as such, nor has it moved into novel territory.  Rather it is both a symptom of the problem of academic publishing itself and it is a symptom of the greater role that digital media is playing in modern business practices, and the way that individuals and groups can circumvent both pre-digital and current business practices.  The issue of digital rights is an important issue to raise at this point, both in the specialized world that I am interested in (the discipline of bioarchaeology) and the wider world of how digital content and media is challenging traditional copyright law and the philosophical inquiry of intellectual ownership (not to mention testing the boundaries between the state and the individual).  Intellectual ownership is perhaps one of the most important points so far mentioned – lives across the globe are ruined due to the implementation of strict copyright laws in various countries, where individuals, such as Aaron Swartz and Diego Gomez, have been pursued by national agencies on account of sharing academic research in the public domain.

A part of this is the non-universal application of Digital rights management (DRM, sometimes labelled as copy protection) schemes which refer to access control technologies that are used to prevent the copyright infringement, modification and distribution of digital material and media formats (DVD’s, CD’s, e-books, etc.).  DRM controls are often used with academic publications or e-books where the reader is allowed a number of options to access paywalled research articles.  For example, the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology (Figure 4) offer a number of approaches to read research articles that it publishes on the journal homepage for those readers who do not have access to the journal via an educational institution.  The instant access options (see below) include the ability to rent the article for a set period of time, to being able to read it on a cloud system, or to download it as a PDF file and then being able to print and save it.

IjOA access

Figure 4. The instant access article options available to reader with no institution access, courtesy of the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. The source of the screenshot can be found here. (Click to enlarge the image).

It is worth mentioning here that the majority of articles and e-books are widely available in the EPUB or PDF formats, including the bioarchaeology e-books mentioned at the beginning of this post, from journal websites directly and from more commercially-minded book sellers.  Shockingly it is well-known that e-books in particular can be stripped of their protective DRM status using Calibre and shared illegally (or at least against the licence of the copyright).  However, you may also just want to save a copy of the e-book that you have brought with your hard-earned money on more than one device.  Perhaps even more damningly e-books can be purchased on sites, such as Amazon, stripped of their DRM status, and returned to the seller for a refund of the original price whilst retaining a copy of the digital publication, essentially ripping off the merchant and publisher (and arguably the author(s) themselves).

A growing number of academic journals are including Gold or Green open access models as a standard means of accessing the research that they publish.  Most journals archive their articles as a matter of course and some are now offering free access to those archives after a set period of time has elapsed (often a number of years in order to make their business model work).  This should rightly be seen as a positive move towards more open research and data.

Brief Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, I cannot in all seriousness offer any conclusion.  Academic publishing seems to me to be partly mad (for the researcher) and partly genius (for the actual publisher) (Figure 5).  Are sites such as Sci-Hub, Academia, ResearchGate, etc. a part of the solution?  Possibly, but I don’t think they are long-term solutions as such but they are vitally important cogs of the publishing machine, cogs that allow dissemination and access to the scientific and humanities research that is so often funded by public money.  It is also clear that there is a bafflingly broad range of payment methods for the honest purchaser of a research article – you really do have to shop around to find the best deal, if you are willing to pay an exorbitant price for a single article.

academic publishing 101

Figure 5. It can be hard to explain to family and friends the nature of academic publishing. When I announced that I was researching and writing a book chapter for a forthcoming bioarchaeology volume I was often asked how much I would be paid for this, either in an advance or as a percentage of the sales of the volume. I could only reply with a half grin at the thought of countless hours of my free time being spent on writing, and re-writing, the chapter for no monetary gain (the contract stipulates that, as an author of one of the chapters in the volume, I can purchase a copy of it with a 1/3 off – hooray! The book will be sold for around £80 or so in hardback form. Still, one of my dreams achieved. Image copyright courtesy of Kirsty Sedgman, source. (Click to enlarge the image).

But, what if you are an archaeological researcher and you want people to read what you have to say?  What if you want to reach a larger audience with your work because you think it is important, and you do not want it to sit behind a paywall in which only a relatively small number of people have access to it?

We, as researchers, can take a stand against the locking away of the research that we generate by targeting the method of delivery of the research itself.  We could pick journals that support open access (journals such as the peer-reviewed International Journal of Palaeopathology which supports open access in part, or peer-reviewed Internet Archaeology, which is fully open access, others such as PLoS advocate open access via the use of the Creative Commons by Attribution licence with the authors agreement).  We can directly sell or market our research to the public and to interested researchers (see a previous post on Stuart Rathbone’s new volume, where you get to decide how much you want to pay to the researcher and publisher directly).  We can take advantage of new digital media, such as blogs or producing videos, opening up grand new avenues of academic and public interaction.  We could do these things, and we could do more to make our research accessible for the benefit of (almost) everyone.

But there is a sting in the tail of this approach.  No one researcher, if they are seeking a long-term career in academia, can do this approach alone.  Researchers need publications in journals where impact factors can be measured, where influence can be scored, where importance can be ranked.  Certain strands of research may be covered by legally binding non-disclosure agreements within public spheres, or may be curtailed by the ethical demands of the nature of the research itself.  The very existence of intellectual and image copyright in the digital realm faces huge challenges with unaccredited digital reproductions and illegal downloads littering the net.  (For osteo enthusiasts I heavily recommend you check out and join the pertinent Digital Ethics in Osteology JISCMail group for the establishment of a working group for best practice guidelines).  On top of this academia, as many know, can itself be relentlessly competitive which, together with the normal stresses and strains of a job which inhabits many roles under its terminology, can lead to rapid burnout through sheer exhaustion and financial worries.  What we publish and where we publish is but one factor facing the life of a researcher and sometimes we cannot control who has access to what, where, when, or why.

Further Information

  • The Open Access Button site can be found here.  Simply follow the instructions and add the plugin to your browser page.  Each time you come across a blocked, or pay walled, research article click the button to let the Open Access Button community know about it and have the site information indexed.  The button will suggest other possible accessible routes for the article, as well as alerting the community to your need to access the research. The data that you enter into the plugin, such as the reason for accessing the article and the location you are based in when doing so, will go towards helping build a global interactive map documenting the problems accessing research.
  • The Sci-Hub site can be found here.  Sci-Hub aims to eliminate all boundaries that stand in the way of accessing scientific research.  According to the website Sci-Hub has 47 million papers in its library and that number is set to grow.  Please be aware however that the site address may change or be mirrored elsewhere around the web, so it is recommended that a search engine is used to locate the current iteration of Sci-Hub.
  • The venerable social media sites for academics and researchers, Academia.edu and ResearchGate, are sites where individual researcher profiles can be created and where articles, book chapters and conference presentations can be uploaded for public view.  This is, in research consent to publish lingo, an example of fair use of sharing scientific work between an academic community.  The sites let you set up a profile of your academic affiliations and research interests, which help to find other individuals interested in these areas and forge research relationships across the world.  (Or leads to you intently refreshing your own profile page in the hope of enticing more readers to view your much-maligned undergraduate dissertation).

Future Funding: A Blow For UK Students? Maintenance Grants Converted to Loans from the 16/17 Academic Year

14 Jul

The British government have recently released the first financial budget since the conservative party majority win in the general election in May 2015.  There is currently much debate on the nature of the reforms that George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has proposed (including the Living Wage replacing the Minimum Wage for people over 25), and whether the budget dis-proportionally targets the middle and lower-income earners (via scrapping working tax credits, removing housing benefit for under 21’s, etc.).  Regardless of the merits and negatives of the budget as a whole, there was one piece of information that is pertinent to the readers of this blog.

That is the proposal to turn maintenance grants (which currently do not have to be paid back unlike the maintenance loans, of up to £3,387 per academic year for lower-income students whose family household income is below £25,000 per annum) into loans from September 2016 (or the 16/17 academic year) for English and Welsh students.  These loans would have to be paid back by the student after they have started earning above a certain income (£21,000 per annum).  Osborne has also stated that the available loaned finance available for students in total will thus be increased up to a total £8,200 per academic year (there is a higher allowance in place for London), dependent on the financial status and background of the student.  This is an overall general increase of £766 per year, the highest that it has been.  Further to this is the possibility and suggestion of the uncapping of the £9000-a-year maximum of student tuition fees that universities in England and Wales can currently charge from the 17/18 academic year for the institutions which offer high-quality teaching, linking it instead with inflation.  There is currently no definition of high-quality teaching institutions and the rise in fees will likely be mentioned in further budgets in the remaining terms of this government.

It should be mentioned here that, for English and Welsh students, university is still free at the point of entry (Scotland has a different system due to greater independence).  Still, I cannot help but think that the loans may discourage students from poorer economic backgrounds in pursuing a degree. I also worry that this could affect different non-finally related sectors of the population more disparately than others in the access to education, when it is well-known that access to education offers the means to improve the circumstances of your life.

Last year I highlighted the changing nature of Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) from the 15/16 academic year for new students starting from that year.  DSA helps to level the playing field for students with disabilities in accessing tertiary education by equipping the students with non-medical help, transport costs, technological equipment and IT training, once they have been assessed on how their disability, or disabilities, affect them in an academic environment to the detriment of their studies.

It is well acknowledged that adult disabled individuals in the United Kingdom tend to be financially poorer than the norm.  The Papworth Trust, a charity focused on providing help for the disabled and elderly, cited the fact that, in a wide-ranging study of disability in the United Kingdom reported in 2014, the employment rate among disabled adults in March 2013 was 49% (4.1 million) compared to the national average of 81.8% of non-disabled people (source).  The two main barriers to work were seen as access to job opportunities (43%) and difficultly with transport (29%), whilst disabled adults are three times likely to have no formal qualifications as non-disabled individuals at 30% and 11% respectively in the reports study cohort.  In an Office for National Statistics report on adult health in Great Britain in 2013, more than 1 in 3 individuals responded positively to having a long-term disability or illness which affected their life (source).

Of course, this all may appear a minor financial quibble in the United Kingdom compared to the ongoing massive financial and business crisis in Greece (with the ‘troika’ of the EU, ECB and the IMF imposing strict financial settlements and austerity measures) and the possible first signs of trouble, or at least signs of slowing down, in the Chinese economy.

However, I’d argue that, as a potential barrier in accessing higher education, and hence skills, this poses a problem in the ability for students from low-income backgrounds and students with disabilities having to justify their course choices and, more generally, the financial ability to pay the loan back once the course has been completed.  Furthermore, there is the potential for the cost to fall back on the UK taxpayers if these loans are not repaid by the student.  There are no easy answers to the funding of higher education, especially as more students gain entry than ever before.  Universities are dynamic places though, both in as centers of employment and of research and teaching – to undervalue them would be to do great discredit to their economic and educational value.  There is a crushing amount of debt to face already as a new university student in the UK, however it is realised that the student loans system is quite unlike high street bank loans, in the fact that the interest rate is much lower and the individual is given a much longer time back in which to pay back the loan, and only after a certain amount of annual income has been reached.  Still, I would, as a new student today, think twice regarding whether a course was necessarily worth the debt (though I have no doubts the value and real wealth of the British university system, in both the quality of the research and the experience itself of being a student).

It is this last point that makes me think of archaeology in all of this.  Most practicing archaeologists in the UK today are highly educated, often needing or pursuing post-graduate courses to specialise within the sector.  It is well recognised that, at the moment and historically, archaeology is a poorly paid employment sector and, especially if you are primarily a field archaeologist, that this employment can be precarious in nature.  With recent changes in planning and construction law, the ability of archaeological companies to safeguard both the work and the quality of the archaeology uncovered is also in real danger.  We gain must ask ourselves who is archaeology for and who is involved?  What are the barriers to everyone accessing archaeology and how can we overcome these barriers as a sector?

I’ve got confidence that the archaeological market will adapt to the challenges posed, that students will still attend university, and that loans will, in one form or another be paid back as possible.  It is clear though that barriers to accessing education at a higher level in the UK are rising.  We should be wary of this, and we should be wary of the longer term implications of it, especially when we come to view our past.

Further Information

  • A full breakdown of the financial entitlements available to students who study in the United Kingdom is available here via the government website.  The page includes all the information available for the pricing of the maintenance loans, maintenance grants and the terms and conditions of the financial agreements themselves.  The website for the Office for National Statistics, which houses many open access reports, documents various national statistics, including the health and disability status of the population of the United Kingdom and the individual countries within it.
  • The previous post detailing the available human osteology taught masters courses in the United Kingdom (or courses where modules in human osteology and anatomy are included), along with the guidelines on course prices for domestic and international students, can be found here.  A supplementary post on the questions to remember to ask when thinking about studying human osteology, or bioarchaeology, at the masters level can be found here.

Future Funding: Disabled Students Allowance in the UK

21 Apr

There are some quietly dramatic changes ongoing in higher education in the UK currently but there is one issue that is particularly close to my heart that, as I scanned newspapers and current affairs magazines over the past few weeks, seems to have received scant media coverage or attention.

On the 7th of April David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, released a ministerial statement on future changes to the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) that will affect new students from the 15/16 academic year on-wards.  The Disabled Student Allowance are non-repayable grants, available to both part-time and full-time undergraduate or postgraduate students, that assist with additional costs that a disabled student incurs in relation to their study in higher education, such as when a disabled individual may need a note taker during lectures, a library helper to find and handle books, or when they require specialist equipment for studying and for producing written work.  Those disabled students who are currently enrolled and agreed DSA will not be affected by the new changes, but students who start in 15/16 academic year will be affected.

The aim, Willetts declares in the statement, is to modernise Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) by reviewing the £125 million-a-year support given to thousands of disabled students in the UK.  Essentially the Student Loans Company, the not-for-profit company that provides student loans and DSA in the UK, will be limiting the support types and equipment allocation that they currently fund for disabled students who attend higher education.  Willetts states that he would expect the higher education institutions (HEI’s) to pick up the slack, and provide and pay for the more general support types needed by individual students with disabilities.  Thus the limited public funds available for DSA will support and supply disabled students applying for higher education with a core allocation for certain complex types of support (such as specialised software), whilst hoping that the individual institutions will have the frameworks in place for providing more generalised support types for disabled students in conjunction with support suppliers.

The only mainstream magazine that I have seen mention or discuss the announcement is the ever reliable Private Eye magazine (current edition No. 1364, page 9), and online independent bloggers such as Assist Tech.  Private Eye quote the fact that the National Association of Disability Practitioners (the providers of support that invoice the Student Loan Company for support given) have stated that the move as described by Willetts would create an enormous disincentive for universities to recruit disabled students because of the costs involved.

The value of having a centralised loan company that can collect information, review procedures and investigate providers of equipment and support will surely be lost if individual HEI’s have to rely on a  binary system of dealing with both the Student Loans Company and the individual practitioners, during the providing of support for disabled individuals in higher education.

Following the ministerial statement by Willetts, Paul Higgs, as a part of the Higher Education Student Funding Policy in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, also released a more in-depth Student Support Information Note in April 2014 (SSIN, fully accessible here).  In it the nuts and bolts of the modernisation program is highlighted, and it makes for depressing reading:

  • The bulk of the non-specialist non-medical helpers (NMH) support that is currently funded by DSA will no longer be funded by the Student Loan Company.  This includes library or laboratory assistants, note takers, personal helpers, mentors or specialist helpers.
  • The majority of the equipment that is currently funded by DSA will no longer be funded from 15/16 on-wards, only specialist equipment that is specifically needed by the student will be funded.
  • No assistive technology support or related non-medical helper support is expected to be funded either.
  • Funding will no longer be provided for consumable items (paper, ink etc).
  • No funding will be given for additional costs regarding accommodation changes where the accommodation is funded by the HEI, if this is to be a problem the HEI itself is expected to meet the cost.

There is, of course, core funding that will remain in place and accessible for disabled students from The Student Loans Company itself in complex situations (although complexicity in this instance is not defined further).  The HEI should hopefully have core support ring-fenced from its own allocation of funding and have such frameworks in place for the support of disabled students from the 15/16 academic year on-wards.  The aim of the statement and intended proposals from Willetts and Higgs is to ensure that the DSA is up to date, consummate with the use of public funds and its spending, and to make sure that HEI’s are abiding by the 2010 Equality Act, which ensures that disabled individuals have an equal playing field, in both academia and in employment compared to the average non-disabled individual.  This is an honourable view certainly.

Yet I retain deep reservations about this latest move by the government.  Yes it has only just been announced and yes it is not currently in practice, but I worry for disabled students access to higher education and to academia generally.  This move will force a greater financial burden onto educational institutions throughout the country.  The economic worth of study, and of the place of academia within a national economy generally, is not in dispute, but the availability of access to academia by every sector of society is.  The move is also slowly breaking down the great vision that study is worth it for its own sake as limitations are further placed on the value of access to education.  Furthermore it is another demoralising move towards eroding the individual freedom of disabled people by dismantling core government support, and fanning it out instead to a variety of organisations and companies.

Dr Sarah Lewthwaite, who is a post doctoral research associate in student experience at King’s College London, argues in a critical and perceptive article for The Guardian‘s Higher Education Network that the latest publicly available records state that the DSA annual spending statistics are actually down compared to previous years (12/13 academic year compared to previous academic years).  Further to this, she also questions the areas that are being proposed to be cut by central funding from The Student Loans Company, highlighting that the

Proposed changes to DSA funding may fundamentally redefine disability in higher education. Students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs), such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADD/ADHD, have been singled out for the largest cuts, and there is a real danger that their needs become invisible.

Willetts has chosen to restrict focus to more “complex” SpLDs and those requiring “most specialist” support. This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between a medical diagnosis and the support requirements that students may have. Indeed, it is ironic that the one group singled out for cuts to academic support are those whose disability explicitly affects learning.

It is worth reading Lewthwaite’s full article as it exposes some of the concerns from the academic sector itself, as well as highlighting issues that will affect disabled students and their access to education.

Patoss, the professional association of teachers of students with special learning difficulties, has also raised its concerned with the changes proposed by Willetts.  In a statement, mentioned on their post on the proposals, Paddy Turner has stated that “the size and the scale of these cuts is unprecedented and represents a retrogressive step in equality for disabled people“.  Needless to say I will be interested to see the development and implementation of the modernisation of DSA in the upcoming years ahead.  I will also keep an eye out for further information as and when it becomes available.

Note 1

A thank you goes to Chris Morley, who highlighted in the comments section below several invaluable articles that helped improve this post.

Note 2

Please note that students in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland may be affected differently due to national changes.  It has also become apparent that different universities may have allocated funds for disabled students which could be used for support.  However the problem still remains that universities that formally received DSA support from central government may no longer be able to provide for disabled students.  Please remember that this is dynamic situation and I’d expect changes to happen, especially as a General Election is due in 2015.

Further Information

  • The ministerial statement by Rt Hon. David Willetts, MP for Universities and Science, can be read here.
  • Paul Higgs SSIN statement on the changes in DSA for 15/16 can be found here.
  • Read Sarah Lewthwaite’s perceptive article in the Guardian’s Higher Education Network section here.
  • Have a read of Assist Tech’s personal view and much more detailed response to Willett’s and Higgs’s statement here.  Worth noting is where the ministerial statement found the statistics it uses on the access to a laptop question.  It is misleading at best.
  • The National Union of Students has blasted the decision by Willets in this article here.
  • Read the legislation for the Equality Act 2010 here.
  • The University of Sheffield Union is holding a demonstration against the cuts on the 6th of June, as part of an on-going campaign.  Find out more information here.

Blogging Archaeology: What Does It All Mean To Me?

15 Mar

This is the fourth entry in a blogging carnival that Doug Rocks-Macqueen, of Doug’s Archaeology, started back in November last year.  Just another quick recap: the whole idea of this blog carnival was started by Doug after he saw that the Society for American Archaeology are having their 79th annual conference in Austin, Texas, next month (just shy of the SXSW festival).  Doug specifically noticed that they are including a session on the rise of blogging in archaeology and, since he cannot be there himself, he thought it was pertinent to start a blogging carnival online to get the archaeology blogosphere alive with monthly questions.  The questions are posted on his site in the first week of each month.

blogging-archaeology3333

Displaying the slightly softer anatomy of the human body with the skeletal tissue in this months blog banner. (Image credit, remixed with MS Paint).

Last month a total of over 50 amazing bloggers joined in answering the December topic of the Best and Worst of blogging archaeology.  This is an awesome number of people involved in spreading the word about the joys and sorrows of blogging about archaeology.  My entry for January can be read here.  Remember that if you are a blogger writing and posting about archaeology and you want to take part then go right ahead!  Feel free to join at any point, answering the past questions is very much encouraged.  The previous past few months questions can be found here, please do jump in and join us!

This month (although I realise it is already March and not quite February any more) Doug has decided to do something a little bit different.  This time it is up to us bloggers to choose our own topic to discuss.  As I have cunningly already missed the deadline for this entry you can also go ahead and read other peoples entries here.

What Does It All Mean?

Well first let me define that for you.  What does it all mean is a question I often find myself asking when I look at my blog, when I think about the hours I have spent researching and writing posts.  But let’s take a minute to think how we got here in the first place.

I am writing this now on a free service that is hosting words and images that I post, and you are now reading this for free.  I do not get paid in any way to produce this content (although I could in a small way I don’t think I will), and I do it of my own free volition.  You decide in roughly ten seconds or so whether you will stay and read any articles that I have produced, or if you will click off the site and go on to search for something else instead.  We often have multiple browsing windows open at once: currently I am watching an episode of the Flight of the Conchords as I type this post, while open in other windows I am logged into a social networking site, one of my email accounts and I also have open a few news articles ready to digest.  For good measure I further have a program lined up and ready to watch on the BBC Iplayer as well.

The world-wide web, as we know it, is a grand 25 years old this year.  There is a pretty astounding 2.3 billion pages on the surface web at the current time, although no one really knows how many pages or sites there are on the web as a whole, or are on the deep web in total (Naughton 2014).  The deep web is, largely, only accessible when using certain pieces of software to access it (Tor, for example) and it is full of sites that are not indexed by any search engine.  It is also often, but not always, used for nefarious practices.  By far the biggest engine browser is Google, a powerful broker in how the internet is interacted with, and how it is indexed and searched.  Every once in a while it re-configures its search algorithms to disrupt any sites that try to play the search engine optimisation game (by setting up dummy sites with links towards a selling site, for example).  This can sometimes permanently disrupt a normally regular flow of visitors to online businesses and entrepreneurs (and, dare I say it, blogs as well) (Naughton 2014).

The blogging platform that this site uses is called WordPress, a self hosting blogging site which was created in 2003.  Wordpress is a free open source blogging tool which supports and boasts some 60 million+ sites on the web today and is host to a very active community (read more here).  It is a peer supported and fully customize-able platform where help is often provided by other users.  Alongside this there is the wordpress.org site, which acts as a primary support network.  Wordpress can, if it feels it necessary, shut down your blog instantly with little to no warning (largely due to backlinks, so be careful of this).  This though, to the best of my knowledge, rarely happens although all users of WordPress or other such hosting sites should read carefully the terms and conditions of the service that they are signing up for.  (And also make copies of posts if you want to have them stored safely elsewhere).  It has been stated that WordPress is perhaps vulnerable to SQL injection attacks, though security is regularly updated .

The quick figures above are a snapshot of the current time and a very short chronology of how young this technology is.  Although I have raised my concerns about the long-term staying power of blogs before, there are plenty of efforts ongoing that are helping to actively archive the websites that litter the internet.  The maxim ‘blog often’ also seems to hold weight for long term bloggers.  The utterly beguiling Wayback Machine has managed to archive an incredible 398 billion web pages over the current period of the webs life.  Quite wonderfully this has included 20 ‘snapshots’ of this blog.  Much like WordPress itself with its active community, the internet archive site mentioned above works with a large volunteer community to help store and archive digital cultural artefacts from across the web in a repository of knowledge.

At this point all of this somewhat randomly asserted bits of information may seem trivial, but I hope to show that the internet is, largely, a community of like-minded people who seek to strive to learn from each other.  As such the interface between the internet, knowledge and academia (particularly archaeology blogging) is something that I think about fairly often.  Also as a blogger I know that we (that is, in this instance, archaeology bloggers) are all vying for the attention of an audience that has the broadest possible range of distractions at their fingertips.  A key thing to remember here of course is the fact that the majority of bloggers write because they want to write.

Digital Witnesses

But the question remains: what does it all mean to me?  I have partly answered this question on a personal level before (here), but I think this question can be approached again from a different angle with help from a few friends.

This blog first took digital form in 2011 and has since been regularly updated with short and some not so short posts (to a degree).  What was the urge to start publicly writing (for it is deeply public, no matter if you get 1 view or 1 million)?  In part, and at large still, it was to improve my own knowledge.  To make myself sit down and take stock of what I know, what I thought I knew and what I definitely didn’t know but thought I maybe knew (to paraphrase Rumsfeld).  Of course it soon became more than that, primarily because I became part of an active online community.  This, I believe, is vital as a part of blogging generally, a dynamic that can vitalise the blogger to change, adapt and evolve during the course of their own work.  Related to this is Tim Berners-Lee’s original and sustained idea that to have a great open online expanse where it is not who shouts the loudest that counts but having the freedom to shout at all that really matters, to have that utter online freedom to take part in something.

“What’s the point of even sleeping, if  I can’t show it if you can’t see me, What’s the point of doing anything?”

Digital Witness, by St. Vincent.

As such shouldn’t we take this opportunity to present our own voices, our own knowledge and our own experiences of who we are, what we do and why we do it?  Could we, in effect, ignore the call of public interaction when it could offer so much?

In my own view now is the time that will test for future generations what direction the world-wide web will ultimately head in and in what direction.  Will it retain its original liberty, freedom and privacy?  Or will it be slowly squeezed of its freedom of use?  Yet this is perhaps too simple a view of a very complex and amorphous question, after all you can have different webs, different connections and different servers (or you know, send a letter).  There are always ways and there are always means to communicate.  The web just happens to be able to reach a lot of people awfully fast.

Personal Academia

By personal academia I mean an ongoing independent interaction with education and interaction in a field of study, specifically in this case in the realms of archaeology, human osteology and human evolution.  Because at the end of the day that is what this is, for both you and me.  However I think it is also pertinent to take a brief look at the context of this blog, because context in archaeology plays a decidedly vital part of our interpretation of the material evidence.  (As a side note it is always worth remembering that although a blog isn’t a physical object that one can handle it does rely on servers, which eat up both physical space and energy).

So lets take a quick case study to highlight just how blogging and academia can fit together.

Recently my blog was mentioned by name in an article by Stojanowski & Duncan (2014) who examined public engagement in bioarchaeology in the American Journal of Human Biology.  The authors briefly examined the rise and history of bioarchaeology as a field, and then moved onto discussing popular topics discussed in the public outreach of bioarchaeology.  Importantly they highlight that bioarchaeology is, like blogging, a young and developing field.  However blogging itself came in from some criticism as the authors believed that bioarchaeology bloggers represented the “perspectives of insiders writing largely (we would argue) for other specialists and students”  (Stojanowski & Duncan 2014: 5).  Stojanowski & Duncan also asserted that “despite this professional vibrancy, it is clear that bioarchaeologists are (to some degree) marginalizing themselves from public discourse because popular presentations of their work are not representative of the field as a whole” (2014: 6).

The first instance that I had heard that my blog had been mentioned in the article was through a message from Alison Atken, of Deathsplanation, on a social media site.  There was a second when I logged onto Kristina Killgrove’s site, Powered By Osteons, and read her article on the value in response to Stojanowski & Duncan.  This discussed detailed examples that her blog had on the public’s perception of bioarchaeology and examples of her own outreach, whilst lambasting the article authors about their negation of the effects of blogging archaeology.  At this point you could consider me intrigued and amazed that my blog had been mentioned by name in an academic article (although annoyed it was negatively framed).

I couldn’t personally access the article at the time though, which was published in the American Journal of Human Biology, because it is pay-walled as the majority of academic journal articles tend to be.  (Although the list of open access publishers in archaeology is growing).  So I emailed Kristina Killgrove to see if I could get a copy of the article.  Wonderfully she duly replied and I managed to read an article referencing my own site, but which failed to actually name the people behind the blogging sites despite being a fairly prolific.

At this point I wrote my own quick reply (here).  At this junction the wonderful Bodies and Academia blog highlighted to me in the comment section that the second author, Duncan, had made the article publicly available on academia.  I also became aware of the recently released Meyers & Killgrove’s (2014) article in the Society for Archaeological Sciences Bulletin on bioarchaeology outreach.  Although not directly in response to Stojanowski & Duncan’s article, Meyers & Killgrove (2014) highlighted the value of blogging and possible future directions, which included the greater use of video and audio resources.  The article was similar to Rakita’s (2011) article in the same publication, espousing the use of social media and blogging as an educational force of outreach for good.

Alexandra Ion, over at Bodies and Academia, in response to Doug’s question of the month for February discussed the gap between academic and blog writing in regards to the above mentioned Human Biology article and the various blogging responses to it.  

As the Bodies and Academia post by Ion highlights:

This also highlighted the gap that exists, in most cases, between those involved in ‘real academic’ work and the ones doing the popular science stuff, often through blogging. More precisely,’real’ science is still associated with the classic means of communication journal articles, intended for one’s peers, while ‘popular’ science is associated with the more modern means of communication, like blogging, media etc” (from here).

This is an interesting comment and one that has riled the academic community for some time.  Many academic bloggers used either hide their blogs or do not mention to their supervisors or departments their blogs.  It has been well documented that some bloggers in the commercial archaeological sector have even lost their job over blogging exploits.  The tide though, I feel at least with academic blogging (if we must label ourselves as such), is turning.

Kristina Killgrove will be arguing in her tenure case that her expansive blog provides an important means of education outreach, as will Katy Meyers, of the ever popular Bones Don’t Lie, during the course of her PhD studies.  Scott Haddow, of A Bone to Pick, has some fantastic posts on what it is like to work in the (bioarch) field, and highlights some very interesting burials at the legendary prehistoric site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey.  Scott is also a great photographer and his shots of field life make me itch to get back in a trench (though I’ve no idea when that will be).  Jess Beck, over at Bone Broke, has an excellent blog discussing various anatomical and physiological aspects involved in bioarchaeology research.  In particular I enjoy reading her summaries of the Evolution and Human Adaptation lectures that she has attended, and her posts on human physiological adaptation.

Jamie Kendrick, a recent graduate of the MSc in Palaeoanthropology at the University of Sheffield, has a blog called The Human Story which discusses various aspects of human evolution.  He asks some of the bigger questions that archaeology and palaeoanthropology can offer such as who are we?  Where did we come from?  What changes happened along the way?  We round off this part with two other Sheffield bloggers, namely Alison Atkin of Deathsplanation and Alexandra Ion of Bodies and Academia, who share a similar focus in discussing the attitudes to the human body, archaeology and death.  Both tackle subjects that surround the periphery of academia and mainstream topics.

If the above examples are not examples of public digital outreach, then I am not entirely sure what is.

Is This Social?

Navigating my post post-graduate life (before a fabled PhD, if that is the path I am to tread) I quite often feel like a ship without a rudder, nor destination in mind.  Simply put I am my own and online I am this, in this guise (this is an important caveat).  Through this blog then I am anchored to a greater whole, partly though my own choosing and partly through lumping.  I’ve positioned this blog as a starter, a prompt into the world of human osteology and bioarchaeology.  It is still a journey I am travelling and I am happy to have you along for the ride if you care to join.  Could this, then, be considered social anthropology as well?  Possibly a social anthropology of me, a reflection of the self?  Before we get to metaphysical here let me just say that if this is a blog detailing my own dalliance in bioarchaeology, the core underpinning must always be how I position myself to those around me and how I interact with them.  I recognise that I manage to get a fair few views (although not every blog is open to discussing statistics) as such I feel that I should highlight other blogs of note.  This is just a personal view.

“Cause we’re all sons of someone’s, we’re all sons of someone’s, I wanna mean more than I mean to you”

Prince Johnny, by St. Vincent.

 Another aspect should probably be mentioned here.  Blogging, or any social media interaction, is profoundly personal yet it is also a two-way mirror.  What you think you may get out of it, the reader may get something else out of it.  Generally the blogger is in control of the personal information that they write and distribute online.  It is up to the writer themselves then how much, or to what scale, that they do this.  It can be easy to get carried away.  Many of my blog entries mention the fact that I have a bone disease, I do this because the disease is little known outside of the medical world or of people who are diagnosed with it.  Thus my blog, as well as the more academia archaeology/osteology, has a profoundly personal aspect to it yet I am inherently aware of the danger of exposing myself too much online.  For a long time I did not have my name displayed on the blog and it is only recently that I added it again to assert ownership of the content of this blog (via Creative Commons).  As for contact it is again only recently that I set up a dedicated email contact.  The blog isn’t linked to a social media account in any way nor it is linked to an academic profile.  Far too many social media sites are advertisements, I do not want to become an advert.

The drawbacks of this are the fact that the blog may, or may not, have been overlooked by researchers looking to critically assess the ‘health’ of academic archaeology blogging.  The flipside of this is that this may mean it appeals to a broader audience, an audience which is not immediately intimidated by the academic overtone on first view.  This is an assumption however and should be treated as such.  I also hope that it invigorates a person to email me and think about what they are going to say (1) – there isn’t the instant backlash of social media.

In effect then the site becomes my own personal academic environment, the above blogs often highlighting to me new research, studies and popular pieces.  The refrain that bounces around my head becomes not ‘what does it all mean?’ but ‘this is what it means’, that I belong to an online community where I know that my work (or at least some bits of it) are appreciated by both my peers and by a lay audience, especially in an arena where (for now) I know I lack a voice.  To become a part of the vanguard of the online bioarchaeological world.  To make others appreciate the great, good and real value of archaeology and the stories that are oft hidden in bone.  To know the value of your own body.

The final blogging carnival question is already up at Doug’s Archaeology for April 2014 and it is about the future of blogging, so please do jump aboard and join in!  The summary of this month’s questions are available at Doug’s site together with links to all the wonderful bloggers who took part.

Notes

(1).  Please note that although I am not active on certain social media sites I always happy to answer any and all questions, and I am happy to take part in questionnaires, interviews or offer views on archaeology and human osteology.  Contact thesebonesofmine at hotmail.com.

P.S. If you have made it this far, congratulations!

Bibliography

Meyers, K. & Killgrove, K. 2014. Bioarchaeology. Society for Archaeological Sciences Bulletin37 (1):  23-25. (Open access).

Naughton, J. 2014. 25 things you might not know about the web on its 25th birthday.  The Guardian. Accessed 09/03/14.

Rakita, G. 2011. Bioarchaeology. Society for Archaeological Sciences Bulletin. 34 (4): 27-28. (Open Access).

Stojanowski, C. & Duncan, W. 2014. Engaging Bodies in the Public Imagination: Bioarchaeology as Social Science, Science, and HumanitiesAmerican Journal of Human Biology. In Press. (Open access on Academia.edu).

St. Vincent. 2014. Produced by John Congleton.  St. Vincent. Republic Records. [Music CD].

Coursera MOOCs blocked in Sudan, Cuba and Iran

29 Jan

I have to say I am loving the Human Evolution: Past and Future MOOC (massive open online course) as it continues into the 2nd week.  I am not currently at university or in a position to access journal articles easily so I really value the fact that the team behind the MOOC and Coursera have put together such an informative and up to date course.  Could you imagine if you were taking part in that course, or any of the hundreds of other free online courses offered by Coursera, and woke up one day to find that your access to the course had been shut off?  Unfortunately that is now the reality for any one taking a Coursera MOOC in Iran, Cuba or Sudan.

In a blog entry dated to the 28th of January 2014 at 8.22pm Coursera declared that the US government had enacted a sanction on the US based course provider effectively blocking any access to courses in the above three countries.  Syria was also blocked but that has since been lifted.

Here is part of the transcript:

Providing access to education for everyone has always been at the core of Coursera’s mission, and it is with deep regret that we have had to make a change to our accessibility in some countries.

Certain United States export control regulations prohibit U.S. businesses, such as MOOC providers like Coursera, from offering services to users in sanctioned countries, including Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. Under the law, certain aspects of Coursera’s course offerings are considered services and are therefore subject to restrictions in sanctioned countries, with the exception of Syria (see below).

Our global community is incredibly valuable to us and we remain committed to providing quality to education to all. During this time, we empathize with the frustrations of students who are affected by this change and we have made it a top priority to make rapid progress toward a solution” (Read the full entry here).

There are also worries that people living along the borders of these countries will also be affected by the ban.  Although Coursera is based in America there are a high number of its academic staff and organisation partners based all over the world.  This has affected many academic institutions and individuals.

I dearly hope this is temporary.  To my mind it seems a bit of a step backwards to limit the accessibility of free online academic courses.  I have blogged on related topics before about the value of MOOCs, of Iran’s often restrictive attitude to education, and I’ve also highlighted just how little a proportion of the world’s population have access to the internet itself.  I have also blogged before about my worries for net neutrality in a quickly changing world.

It has to be said that there are sadly a number of countries that ban or severely limit access to the world wide web, with China having a particularly strict firewall.  Some countries have a very limited internet capability while others simply have a very mobile population.

There are a number of programs and software installations that can be used to circumvent the IP address ban.  These can include VPN (Virtual Private Networks) or use of the free Tor software (see comments below though), a program which allows anonymity and censorship resistance and is widely used by the public, clandestine humanitarian centers and undercover agents.  There are a number of other methods that can be used as well – see here.  Be aware that the above methods of internet anonymity may be illegal in certain countries and is no way encouraged.

I will try to keep abreast of this development in the accessibility of Coursera MOOCs and I will update this entry as necessary and appropriate.

Open Access Button & r/Scholar

20 Jan

A friend (1) has just informed me of the fantastic Open Access Button plugin tool, a scheme started by medical students who were frustrated by research pay walls online.

All you have to do is install the link on your toolbar and each time you come across a paper or article you cannot access you simply click the link.  A side panel appears where you fill the boxes with the article URL, the digital object identifier (DOI), add a quick article description and add a reason why you need to access the research and then submit it.  This then lets users, the public and professionals, know where research is being pay wall blocked and adds the link to a geographic map of the world informing other users of problems.  It is hoped that the button will show the impact of academic pay walls on research dissemination and produce data on the worldwide distribution of access to research papers.

OAB

The Open Access Button logo (Image credit: David Carroll & Joseph McArthur/OAB).

Also available is the fantastic Reddit scholar thread where you can request any article needed that is pay walled and another Reddit user will provide you with the article, usually within a very small time frame.  This is a fantastic use of the combination of supply and demand for academic access to research articles by individuals who are dedicated to sharing resources.

I’ve installed the open access plugin and it shall be used when I cannot access pay wall blocked articles to learn about the latest updates in human osteology and bioarchaeology.  At the current moment I am finding a lot of articles I try to read are often blocked by pay walls, leaving only the abstract to tantalize me with the forbidden fruits of academic research.  This is frustrating as I am trying to find articles relating to physical impairment in the past and I am finding that the knowledge is out there but it is locked beyond my means to access it.

Update 20/01/14

I have just used the button to report an article I could not access and, quite wonderfully, the plugin suggested several other articles to consider and other sites where I may find the article that I was originally looking for.

Notes

(1.) My friend is one of three authors of the fantastic Scatterfeed blog, a site dedicated to science and nature.  It is well worth checking the site.

Further Information

  • Open Access Button blog site can be found here.
  • The Open Access Button main site can be found here.
  • The r/Scholar Reddit forum can be found here.

The Value of CARA & Scholars At Risk Network

7 Jan

In the December entry for the blogging carnival (the good, bad and ugly of archaeology blogging) I mentioned the Scholars At Risk Network, after learning about the network from Sam Hardy over at [Un]Free Archaeology.  As a direct result of my mention of them in my blog post another great blogger, Loretta Kilroe, brought to my attention CARA, the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics.

I think it is time to dig a bit deeper to highlight these two fantastic organisations in the work that they do and why they are needed.  Too often in the online blogging community we espouse the knowledge of others and thank the wonders of the internet for bringing everyone together when only an estimated 34-39% of the earth’s population have access to the internet.  We have to realize that many academics today still face being severely curtailed in pursing their research topics or face other consequences (imprisonment/torture) because of political oppression, rife censorship or imposed sanctions in variety of countries world wide.

CARA

CARA’s underlining approach and mission statement is simple:

“Academic Freedom is the principle which underpins and informs CARA’s work defending the right of individuals to explore the world of ideas, literature and science unfettered by political, social or religious oppression, censorship, or sanction” (Source).

Cara

The banner of the CARA site highlighting one issue that often stops refugees (Image credit: source).

The council was originally founded in 1933 by William Beveridge to assist other scholars after he learnt of the displacement of academics from Nazi Germany on racial and/or political grounds and subsequently launched a rescue operation.  The organisation continued to grow throughout the next 70 years, helping out academics not just during the Second World War but also during the repressive Stalinist period in Russia, the unrest in the Middle East and throughout the South African Apartheid period.  Today it’s focus has shifted towards the Middle East, with a particular focus on Iraq, and to certain areas of the African continent.  Although not initially called CARA, the organisation changed it’s name in 1999 to it’s present name as a reflection of it’s world wide operational basis.

CARA are currently running three programmes at the moment in the UK, the Middle East and Zimbabwe.  The United Kingdom program offers, and provides, assistance to “enable persecuted academics  many of whom are refugees and asylum seekers, to return to academia or an allied profession in the UK at a level commensurate with their skills and experience” (source).  The Middle East program is centered on Iraq and Syria, helping academics that have either settled in the UK as a result of conflict or those that are still living in Syria or Iraq.  The Iraq program was launched in 2006 as a direct result of the rise in kidnappings of academics in the country and the continued killings of civilians in the country.  The Syria program was founded as a result of the grim situation that has developed in the country over the past two years.

CARA is helping academics both in Syria, and those that have fled to the surrounding countries and the UK, by providing practical advice on survival and academic help.  The Zimbabwe program was set up in 2009 in response to the flood of academics feeling the country.  Importantly the program also aims to stifle the dramatic decline in quality of the higher education in the country, where it can.  A number of reports on these programs, and others conducted by the organisation, can be found on the CARA site.

Scholars At Risk Network

Scholars at Risk Network (SAR) hold much the same values as CARA in the belief that their work is grounded in the principle of academic freedom, that is the freedom to pursue academic research without fear of censorship, intimidation, fear of violence or of discrimination.  The network organisation has its initial roots in the Human Rights program at the University of Chicago in 1999, and it quickly grew to join other international education and academic advocacy groups within a few short years of its founding.

In particular the SAR network has joined forces with the Institute for International Education in helping to offer an endowed rescue fund to help scholars and academics who are in perilous situations.  Moving it’s base to New York University in 2003, SAR has continued to provide funds for scholars as well as participating in a broad range of advocacy work in centers across the world.  This has been reinforced by SAR developing partner networks across Europe, the Middle East and Africa during the last decade or so.  Further information on SAR’s history can be found here.

rng

Personal freedom is often underrated until you realise what it is like being able to freely express yourself (Image credit: source).

SAR’s first and foremost task is protecting scholars by arranging positions of sanctuary and safety, often offered as one semester or one year long positions as academic posts at host universities.  Further to this, the network also runs a Scholars-In-Prison project designed to protect scholars who are unable to leave their home countries, as well as keeping an active up -to-date record on attacks and widespread threats to individuals, departments and institutions.  Secondly, the SAR network runs workshops and training sessions as a part of its active outreach work, as well as circulating monitor reports highlighting the recent developments in the root causes of intellectual repression.  Find out more here.

Why Is It Important?

It is vitally important to always resist the powers that seek to limit the intellectual and individual freedom.  Knowledge, invention and imagination are the three crucial foundations for thought that are expressed in higher education and the academic environment.  The persecution, suppression or imprisonment of academics happens for a variety of reasons and I must point out here that I do no ignore the general population at the expense of the academic.  Rather it is due to my passion and experience of higher education that I have wrote about CARA and the SAR network, that this blog is, for me, the ideal venue to help raise awareness of these two fantastic organisations.  Sadly these organisations are necessary in the modern world, very necessary.

The world of higher education is a wonderfully mixed and diverse one where no two people are ever the same and may have strong views and opinions.  It is, like archaeology itself, a very fluid environment in which individuals come and go.  Universities have the strong focused economic base in the areas where they are situated but they operate in a myriad of professional and social entanglements, often crossing borders around the world with research projects, societies and professional links.  If one scholar cannot offer a hand to another in need then that is a very sad world indeed, especially when the binding force of academia is co-operation.

…And Introducing Médecins Sans Frontiéres

Further to the above two organisations that support academics in need I would also heartily recommend supporting Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF, otherwise known as Doctors Without Borders).  Established in 1971 and currently working in over 60 countries worldwide, Médecins Sans Frontiéres has provided medical aid to millions of people during its history whilst remaining an independent organisation which is run and and owned by staff both present and past.  With over 90% of its income coming from individual donors MSF maintains the ability to be an neutral and independent organisation, able to help sick and injured people worldwide independent of national boundaries, institutions or governments regardless of gender, race or religion.  It is also a transparent worldwide organisation, which is split into a number of associations and sections.

The organisation works in a variety of crisis environments (including armed conflicts, epidemics and disease outbreaks, environmental disasters, exodus of refugees or helping people who are excluded from healthcare) by helping to establish centers of treatment.  In a number of cases they have to be clandestine operations to protect the patients and MSF staff from harm and violence in unstable environments, such as in Syria currently for example.

Further to this MSF also carry out medical research to help produce the best results for helping their patients and to help future humanitarian missions.  As a part of this they allow the research produced to be freely accessible to anyone.  I personally have supported this charity in the past (and continue to when I can) because I cannot imagine what my life would be like if the medical facilities for treating my previous fractures were non-existent: I realise I am lucky to have access to such good healthcare.  In short it is also my way of saying thank you.  You can also donate or apply to join MSF during operations if you have a medical background.  You can support MSF here!