As the Association of African Universities (AAU) celebrated its 53rd anniversary, and African-universities’ Week last week with webinars on various higher education topics, scholars across Africa spiritedly deliberated on the importance of establishing peer-viewed journals and sustaining them in a digitalised environment in universities.
The scholars also bemoaned the lack of trust African academics have in local peer-reviewed journals where they are operational, and fiercely attacked the preference of publishing their research results in journals in universities in developed countries. There was therefore a clarion call for the Association of African Universities to establish an inter-Africa multidisciplinary journal that would act as a beacon of African research and creation of knowledge by Africans for Africans and for the whole world.
Quality journal publication is one of the criteria used to rank universities. It is disturbing to note that many universities in Africa lag behind in this regard since they do not have journals which publish local and international peer-reviewed research articles. It was established that there is need to encourage such universities to establish their own peer-reviewed journals.
Experience has proved that it is advantageous for a university to start with a general type of a journal, as this will take contributions from a variety of areas. The multidisciplinary approach to establishing an academic journal has posted better results than starting with a specialised, discipline specific journal.
The generic, nonspecific and multidisciplinary journal is cost effective and therefore suitable for universities reeling under the economic doldrums. An example of a multidisciplinary journal is the Journal for Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, of which I am a founding editor. Examples of a specialised journal are Journal of Bantu Syntax, Quarterly Journal of Economics and A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.
The crucial point to raise here is that when establishing an academic journal, it is crucial to consider the scope of the journal. Journals have been established and published for a few years before they ‘died a natural death’ mainly because of lack of clear scopes and delimitations. The target audience of the journal should be clear; in other words, the journal must identify with a discourse community at the home university, regionally and internationally. The support that scholars from different universities lend to the journal through quality contributions is the cornerstone of the sustainability of the journal. Equally important for the establishment and sustainability of an academic peer-reviewed journal is a team of highly experienced professors that runs the affairs of the journal. These scholars, drawn from the home university and regional and international universities; pull together their various skills in managing the affairs of the journal. They form a formidable cadre of ‘gate-keepers’, ensuring that quality research articles are published for the avid consumers of knowledge.
These men and women are usually not remunerated for the long hours they spend processing academic journals. They derive satisfaction in facilitating the arduous and laborious process of knowledge creation and dissemination. These scholars are made of sterner academic staff; they are a rare breed of academics who have dedicated their lives to the churning out of knowledge without material gains. They are different from bogus individuals who establish what is known as predatory or fake journals whose drive is more money making than the quality of articles.
Many academics have become prey to predatory journals because promotions and appointments at universities are based on the number of scholarly articles that one has published in his or her area of specialisation over the years. Desperation usually drives academics to find the quickest way of publishing their articles. They end up submitting their articles to fake journals and lose in the end when their published articles are not considered by their universities.
So, while universities are urged to establish journals, these journals must be credible and accredited. They should meet the international standards of solid peer-reviewed journals.
On the question of choice of publications, African academics have a tendency of despising African journals, preferring to publish their research articles in journals in the developed world. While it is prestigious to publish in high impact journals of universities in developed countries, African scholars are urged to support their local journals in a bid to take these journals to higher levels. In order to sustain journals in African universities, African scholars must invest their researches in these journals. It must be borne in the mind that high impact journals also had a humble beginning; they started somewhere and gained their prestige with time. The new journals must also attract international scholars whose presence assist in uplifting the credentials and standard of the publications. In this way, the journals will be included in the Journal Citation Reports (JCR), eventually leading to the calculation of their impact factors. For this to happen, journals must be registered or listed with international platforms such as SCOPUS, Web of Science and Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).
In addition to establishing new journals in universities, African universities desperately need to establish an inter-Africa journal on higher education research in Africa. Such a multidisciplinary journal should be powered by the Association of African Universities. It is recommended that the Association of African Universities establishes a secretariat at its headquarters in Ghana, which will be tasked with laying the foundation of this scholarly communication mouthpiece in higher education. The association should without further delay set aside funds for the establishment of the Africa’s journal, which, as I see it is long overdue.
The African journal can be modelled along the lines of continental journals like the European Journal of Pharmacology and Medical Research, Australian Journal of Electrical and Electronics Engineering and American Journal of Biomedical Science and Research. If I was asked to give the name to the African journal, I would call it African Journal of Higher Education Research. Such a journal would be a multidisciplinary journal that would accept contributions from all kinds of research in higher education institutions in Africa.
As I see it, the Association of African Universities has the potential and capacity to establish this kind of a journal for African and other scholars.