UCT Press returns home

24 August 2022 | Professor Sue Harrison

Dear colleagues and students

A university press is a critical component of the research and education ecosystem. It functions as a knowledge translator, is key to sharing the ideas and discoveries of an institution’s researchers and beyond, championing its intellectual agenda. As Africa’s and one of the world’s leading universities, the University of Cape Town (UCT) is best placed and committed to being at the forefront of strengthening the continent’s position as a site for scientific knowledge production. Launched in 1994, UCT Press has a proud history as one of our institution’s outlets for scholarly publishing. It pleases me to announce that, after more than 25 years under the management of publishing house Juta & Company, we have brought UCT Press home and are relaunching it through the UCT Libraries.

When UCT Press was first launched, it was envisioned that it would harness the new digital technology of the day and focus primarily on digital print on demand. The vision was clearly ahead of its time and for a few decades UCT Press focused on printing books, which were then sold to libraries, bookshops and book distributors, nationally and internationally. From its early years until the present, UCT Press has published almost 200 titles, ranging in subject matter from archaeology, biotechnology, economics and gender studies, to politics, urban studies and psychology.

Shifts in technology and the opportunities afforded by them will now allow us to give life to UCT Press’s original vision of making scholarship widely available. Increasingly, in the fast-moving world of digital technologies, which makes so much information available freely and instantly, digital outputs are gaining traction in some disciplines. In others, print publishing remains preferred. Through leveraging these opportunities for a new paradigm for UCT Press, UCT plans to move it into a robust model and develop it into a publisher of choice in Africa.

On its relaunching at UCT as the premier publisher established for unleashing knowledge in, for and from Africa, the UCT Press will take on both a print media and an Open Access mode, with print on demand. This will facilitate its smooth transition from a solely print media press with Juta to an increasingly Open Access press at UCT. Building on its long commitment and investment in sharing high-quality, peer-reviewed scholarly publications, based on original academic research, we are excited to be transitioning UCT Press to a dual format, and are championing the building of the Open Access press stream.

The open access movement is reimagining the academic publishing world as the demand for publicly funded research to be made publicly available grows and technological innovations make this kind of accessibility achievable.

One of the fundamental principles of UCT’s Vision 2030 is social justice that enables the collective public intellectual to participate in and influence public debate through open and accessible knowledge dissemination; the university’s open access policy is an important part of this social justice agenda. The policy means that our research should be as widely accessible as possible, removing significant barriers to access that exist in the traditional academic print publishing industry.

From the author’s point of view, the publication process will be no different from any other scholarly publisher, with a workflow that ensures the highest level of academic rigour. This process includes a full peer review of the manuscript, with the reviewers nominated by the UCT Press Editorial Board. Just like under Juta, any book published by UCT Press will be produced in line with the South African Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET)’s criteria for scholarly accreditation and can therefore be submitted to the DHET publication count. A process of making backlist titles available on open access has also begun. Since December 2021, 65 titles have been made available via the UCT Press website, after having sought copyright clearance from the respective authors. One of the more downloaded titles is Beyond impunity: New directions for governance in Malawi and has been downloaded more than 200 times since it was published in May 2022.

As part of UCT’s commitment to open access publishing, the university has set aside a book publishing fund for the publication of books by the open access UCT Press. These funds will cover the services that cannot be done within the institution, such as indexing, copy editing, graphic design and layout.

UCT Libraries has been innovating in the publishing space, and when discussions began with Juta in early 2019, to cede the Press back to UCT, UCT Libraries were able and willing to embrace it as an extension of its rapidly developing suite of open access publishing services. These include the continental platform, established to make African scholarly work freely available.

Alongside the open access platform, the print-on-demand feature will cater for diverse preferences in accessing knowledge and the dual print stream will continue to allow joint publication of texts by UCT Press and international publishing houses. Marketing and distribution of print-on-demand and other hardcopy books will be managed through Blue Weaver, along with other international distribution channels by agreement on specific texts. Blue Weaver are also distributing the stock of existing UCT Press books.

Importantly, expanding UCT Press to introduce an open access platform is a major step towards the future of academic publishing. This has already been demonstrated by the multiple downloads of books previously published by UCT Press whose authors gave the go-ahead for them to be made available as open access PDFs. This clearly shows the near-immediate impact of taking down those barriers to entry for knowledge.

To meet our Vision 2030 to be a university in and for Africa, this active dissemination of our research to where it can have the biggest impact is the highest priority.

I encourage you to visit the UCT Press website and explore it and to consider UCT Press as the publisher for your next monograph – the call for book proposals is already active.

With kind regards

Professor Sue Harrison
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation

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