Mental Health, Students

Mental health of international undergraduates in a time of global crisis

As part of our mini-series about undergraduate mental health, we tried to find out more about the specific issues international students face at this time of global crisis, and which strategies universities and students themselves are deploying to address them.

First, to provide some clarity: the term “mental health” is frequently used ambiguously, but for the purpose of this and all following blog posts, we shall work with the definition provided by the World Health Organisation [WHO], which states that “Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” (More details on this can be found here.) The purpose of our articles is to examine imbalances of this state of well-being; we do not consider mental disorders (which require professional support by a GP, psychotherapist or psychiatrist) to be part of this remit.

We spoke to psychologist P. Weigelt-Lindemann, who provides psychological counselling to students at a medium-sized University of Applied Sciences in Germany.

“I started working at this University last year, shortly after the first lockdown had begun in Germany. Since taking up the post, I have therefore always worked from home, and have conducted all counselling remotely so far. My university is a very young (less than 15 years old) teaching university, teaches most degrees in English and has a focus on Natural Sciences, Technology and Agricultural Sciences. As a result, we have a very international student body and more than 50% of students are not German; they mainly come from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China and African countries. It has been interesting to see that at first the pandemic barely featured in my counselling; it is only since the second [much stricter] lockdown that was imposed in December that Covid has created real concern for our students. The main anxieties they raise include homesickness, no prospect of being able to travel back into their home countries any time soon and worry about their families, particularly when their families live in countries where infection numbers have gone out of control.”

Social isolation has been a worry throughout the pandemic, but over the winter it has become a bigger issue. Not only international, but also domestic students are suffering from an increased lack of motivation and find it more difficult to absorb information purely through screens and with very limited possibilities for informal exchange with other students. Initially, students adapted well to this new way of learning because they assumed it would only be temporary, but now they are struggling with a state of fatigue – one year on, there is no real end in sight.

P. Weigelt-Lindemann says: “Our ‘Welcome Centre’ that looks after first year students has done an incredibly good job in providing induction to new students remotely, so interestingly these students are coping relatively well with the remote learning. It is those students who were able to build friendships and relationships before the pandemic broke out, and who are used to learning in lecture halls and seminar rooms, who are struggling much more.
“Having said that, international first year students face the added difficulty of cultural assimilation. With everything closed, – not only the university buildings, but also shops, restaurants, cultural venues etc. – these students have only seen their student halls since having arrived in this country, and it is incredibly difficult for them to get to know the country they have moved to and to settle into this new culture. At the same time, there is no prospect of going back home in the near future, so they find themselves in a state of limbo between two cultures, which makes it very hard for them.”

P. Weigelt-Lindemann says the University has experienced a sharp increase in demand for counselling. It has also been noticeable that the pressures on students have increased. Whilst fees are less of an issue in Germany than they are elsewhere (there are no tuition fees at German universities for anyone taking a first degree, though international students have to provide solid proof of financial resources to obtain a student visa), most part-time job opportunities for students – who typically work in bars, restaurants or in the events industry to cover their costs of living – have vanished, and they are more dependent on their families or government support than before. This leads to an increased pressure to be successful in a more challenging learning environment.

The concept of “Emerging Adulthood” as a new phase of development for the period from the late teens through the twenties was first introduced by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett in 2004 and describes the phenomenon of a distinct phase in people’s lives which they spend in self-focused exploration and trying out different possibilities in their careers and relationships, while society sees them as adults who are expected to have entered adulthood and taken decisions accordingly.

P. Weigelt-Lindemann witnesses this discrepancy when engaging in counselling sessions with students. The difficulties that must be negotiated by “emerging adults” are exacerbated by the current situation. “The students are not ready to be adults yet, they need a lot more support in finding their way than previous generations did, but the current situation doesn’t allow them to rely on this support network. This is very difficult for many of them, who are not used to organising their lives for themselves, and that has an effect on their mental health. The university support network has to understand this and the services need to take into account that these students need a lot more (often basic) support than the university is used to providing.”

However, as P. Weigelt-Lindemann points out, the universities can offer a lot to support these students, who should not feel ashamed of asking for help. “Many students think they are the only ones who struggle, but it helps them to find out that their worries and struggles are shared by many and that there is help at hand.”

The university’s counselling service is a good starting point for help, and in many places the Student Unions also provide Mental Health support of excellent quality.

[written by Annika Bennett, Gold Leaf]

Mental Health, Students

The mental well-being of our students

Whilst at Gold Leaf we believe it is alarmist – and not at all helpful – to call the present generation of students “lost” because of the impact of the pandemic and various lockdowns on their education – in our experience most young people are astonishingly brave and resilient – it has to be acknowledged that everyone who has enjoyed working for a degree in happier times must sympathise with their plight.  Even though many universities around the world have done sterling work in supporting students as much as possible with online learning and blended learning and librarians have both rapidly increased their electronic holdings and made sure that academics and students are well-versed in using them, it cannot be denied that students are missing out on many of the things that make university special: for example, fieldwork expeditions and collaborative lab-work; trips to the theatre, concerts and art galleries and the other rich cultural experiences usually available to undergraduates; even simply hanging out with their peers. On top of this, students may be worried that degrees awarded under today’s restricted studying conditions may be “worth less” than “normal” and that even if the qualifications are recognised, there will be few jobs waiting for those who have qualified.

It is therefore not surprising that concern for students’ mental well-being has increased substantially throughout the past year. A significant amount of research has now been undertaken on this issue. One study, led by the University of Glasgow and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found that thoughts of suicide among undergraduates encouraged by 8 – 10% in just three months.  A survey conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that students now report considerably lower levels of personal well-being than the population as a whole. Dartmouth College, in the USA, detected spikes in student depression and anxiety as early as March 2020, when students were first encouraged to leave the campus and conduct most of their learning online. In January, French students organised a series of nationwide protests to draw attention to rising mental health problems caused by the pandemic.  Special mental health counsellors appointed at the University of Lyon say they have been overwhelmed by the demands placed on their services.  Two undergraduates at this university have already taken their own lives this year. An article in The Lancet points out that not much is known about the effects of large-scale pandemics on the health of children and adolescents[1]. As well as having a profound impact on their education, social distancing may exacerbate the risk of other threats to young people, such as physical, mental or sexual abuse. If their parents lose their jobs, this also undermines their sense of security.

Last year UNESCO started its Minding our Minds campaign. Eric Falt, Director and UNESCO Representative to Bhutan, India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, wrote: “It will take all of our collective effort and focus to ensure that students are getting the care they need to succeed.” To highlight the importance of the impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown on the mental health of marginalized communities, UNESCO New Delhi has created five awareness posters, which are available in four languages English, Hindi, Sinhala and Tamil.

Clearly undergraduate mental health is vitally important to everyone: today’s undergraduates will be the scientists, politicians, artists and writers of the future.  Over the next few weeks, we are therefore planning to dig a little deeper into how some universities are supporting the mental health of their undergraduate communities.  If, having read this post, you would like to contribute or comment, we shall be delighted to hear from you.

[written by Linda Bennett, Gold Leaf]


[1] Mental health effects of school closures during COVID-19 – The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health

General, Learning from Libraries, Libraries

Librarians: the quiet and unsung professionals battling Covid every day

We have heard a great deal about front line workers this year – nurses and doctors and all those working for the NHS and its counterpart national and medical organisations throughout the world; teachers; members of the armed forces; delivery men; and those who toil at jobs in retail when they’re allowed to go to work and put a brave face on it every time there’s another lockdown and they have to stay at home and forego some or all of their wages and contend with the ever-present threat of redundancy.  Like everyone, we are full of awe and respect for all of them; but there are people who are not working in the front line who have also been performing incredible feats of industry, endurance and imagination to secure benefits for others throughout this strange and exhausting year.

Top of our list at Gold Leaf are academic librarians.  We are familiar with their activities because we work with them all the time; and their achievements this year have been truly astonishing. Within a week – and sometimes within 48 hours – of the first lockdown in their respective countries, academic librarians the world over swung into action.  They arranged for students, lecturers and researchers to access online resources remotely; they arranged click-and-collect and scanning services for those reliant on print; they opened up space for research and study in the library as soon as they were able for those who were disadvantaged by having to work from home.

This might all sound quite routine: surely academic librarians have been moving to online resource provision for the best part of twenty years, and with ever-escalating rapidity during the last decade? It may be true that this is the case; but it doesn’t detract from what they have had to accomplish in the past nine or ten months.

In the first place, the Covid restrictions have perforce alerted them to the proficiency – or otherwise – of library users when discovering, accessing and using online products.  This includes library users at all levels, from senior academics and researchers to first year students. Librarians have discovered that certain very eminent academics, including those who have been extolling the virtues of digital publications for years, have had very little direct experience of using them. As for students – many librarians smile at the use of the term “digital natives”.  It seems that people of all generations vary massively in their online capabilities – one librarian even said that some of her younger librarian colleagues did not know how to use all their library’s digital holdings; but in the main it is the librarians who have been teaching everyone else.

Instruction from librarians to other university colleagues has not been limited to advice on how to access and use digital products; a more time-consuming and far-reaching task they have shouldered is to help academics design online lectures and seminars.  Last spring it quickly became clear that taking a routine face-to-face lecture online as it stands does not work, particularly in Arts and Humanities subjects, where many lectures are scheduled to last for more than an hour.  Librarians have been coaching academics in how to combine technologies – video streaming with ordinary Zoom and Powerpoint, for example – to make online lectures more interesting; and finding ways of covering topics “shorter but with a deeper dive” to accommodate digital attention spans.  Some initiatives have been so successful that at universities where some students in a cohort have been invited to a face-to-face meeting while the rest of the cohort joins it online, many have preferred to ask for the online option.

The digital products themselves have also required attention.  Despite the ever-increasing, ever-accelerating demand for digital resources – many universities now have an “e-first” policy, some even and “e-only” one – catering for remote resource provision has highlighted the fact that many resources are still not available in e-format, particularly textbooks; therefore, librarians have had to work hard to find viable alternatives. This may include investigation into open textbooks, which are increasingly becoming of interest to both academics and librarians.  Publisher-provided e-textbooks sometimes present a further challenge once they have been located: the business models employed do not always work for library budgets, so librarians may not be able to purchase all they would like to; again, the only option is to spend time looking for alternatives.

Despite all these obstacles, difficulties and challenges, as they reach the end of this year academic librarians everywhere have earned massive gratitude from the communities they support by solving every problem that has been thrown at them, usually with great tolerance, humour and ingenuity. In 2020 academia has suffered many blows and setbacks, but one hugely positive outcome of the Covid pandemic is that having to address it on behalf of their patrons has raised the profile of librarians.  The value of the work they do has now been properly acknowledged, in many instances for the first time. Librarians of the world, we salute you!

We wish all the readers of this blog a very happy Christmas and a happy, healthy and successful New Year.  We have been massively grateful for all your interest and support during this strange and difficult year and look forward very much to engaging with you again in 2021, when hopefully the future will look a little brighter for all of us.

Linda, Annika and James

Case Studies, Sustainability, Trends in Publishing

A holistic approach to sustainability – Oekom Verlag

Oekom is the German “publishing house for Ecological Communication”;  it was founded in 1989 and has made the topics of ecology and sustainability its focus ever since. Originally it published the journal “politische ökologie” (“political ecology”) and has built on this to become a publisher of 12 journals and approx. 70 other publications annually. The company defines itself as a “Social Entrepreneur” and employee participation, flexible working and staff wellbeing have been at the centre of its philosophy from the outset. Ecology has always been an important factor in the day-to-day running of the company; recycled paper has always been used for office communication; and for many years only food from sustainable sources has been served to staff and visitors. Oekom exclusively uses sustainable products from specialised suppliers. Anke Oxenfarth, Head of Sustainability and editor in chief for “politische ökologie” says: “If you work for Oekom, sustainability is surrounding you all the time: from the ink in pens and toilet paper to the electricity used in offices and for servers; everything is sourced sustainably. When we travel for business, we only travel by rail, even for distances over 500 km. All new members of staff have a sustainability induction when they start working for us, so the approach is completely integral to all company policies.”

Despite this philosophy, Oekom soon recognised that a more strategic approach to sustainability was needed to make improvements to products and the industry as a whole. Therefore in 2007 a mission statement was created to encapsulate the sustainability approach. Since 2008, there has been a particular focus reducing CO2 emissions by the new established Sustainability Officer. Oekom publications have always been printed on recycled paper (Blue Angel/FSC) where possible and today the vast majority of paper used has sustainability certification; and in 2016 the company started to abandon all shrink wrap from its product range. “We had anticipated a big pushback from distributors, but it was actually found to be very workable and now, customers complain if they receive a shrink-wrapped book (that was produced before 2016 or if a bookseller shrink wraps one of our books at their own account),” says Anke Oxenfarth. In 2011, Oekom made another big push towards its sustainability goals with the creation of a dedicated Executive Department of Sustainability (which has been led by Anke Oxenfarth ever since) and by launching the Green Publishing Initiative.

The idea for a more systematic initiative to encourage sustainability within the publishing industry grew in 2009 and 2010, when it started to become a topic with other industry stakeholders as well. However, funding for this was needed, so Oekom Verlag took the lead in 2011 and stared a “green publishing” project, funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, in cooperation with research bodies in Berlin (IÖW) and Heidelberg (ifeu) – they provided the scientific background – and the Frankfurt Book Fair, with Oekom being responsible for communication on the subject within the industry.

The first part of the project ran from 2011-2013 and focused on the development of industry-wide standards. Under the title “Sustainable Publishing – New Environmental Standards for the Publishing Industry”, the team held workshops for stakeholders from across the industry and developed a set of criteria backed by environmental research. Not all of the suggested criteria were initially accepted, and work still needs to be done around some of them, for example a commitment to ensure products are free from biogenetics.

After the criteria had been agreed, the second step was to develop a certification and approval process. This project had the title “Development of an eco-label Blue Angel for eco-friendly printed products” and its outcome was the “Blue Angel RAL-UZ 195” (Blue Angel) for printed matters certificate, which was approved and developed as an industry standard in 2015. This certificate encompasses the entire production cycle and ensures not only that paper and packaging are sustainable, but also the printing process, including the sourcing of inks and energy suppliers.

Currently, the certification does not include Sales and Distribution channels. Anke Oxenfarth says this is “a real shame, but it would have been too big a project to establish. You would open a can of worms if you were to try and formalise this. We at Oekom support sustainable distribution channels as far as we can, and a lot of work has to happen within the industry as a whole to improve a global, sustainable distribution chain.
“Sustainability has become a ‘buzz word’ in this industry and many publishers have started looking at it, but many are only engaging with individual projects that are not embedded in an overall strategy. If more publishers adopted a holistic approach to sustainability, such as we do ourselves and as some – but only a few – others do, it would make the discussion around this topic a whole lot more meaningful.”

More information about the Initiative can be found (in German) under www.greenpublishing.de; some documentation is available in English from here: Green Publishing – Downloads

[written by Annika Bennett, Gold Leaf]

Learning from Libraries, Libraries, Universities

Learning from Libraries – an interview with Roxanne Missingham

Roxanne Missingham, University Librarian and the Australian National University (ANU) describes what it means to her to be a librarian

Tell us a bit about your career.  Did you always want to be a librarian?  Where was your first job?  Where did you get your library qualification?

My mother says that I wanted to be a librarian when I was in primary school! My first degree at university was a Bachelor of Science.  I studied at ANU: lots of Maths and Psychology, with a minor in English.

There weren’t many jobs for women in science and so I did a postgraduate qualification in librarianship at what is now the University of Canberra. I was inspired by such amazingly dedicated lecturers as Maxine Rochester and John Balnaves and was extremely fortunately to be recruited to what was essentially a graduate trainee program at the National Library of Australia.

I loved my colleagues, helping to build the library collection and the ethos of making a national difference through libraries. The diversity of work is fabulous – as are the regular challenges and opportunities.

Tell us about your present job.  What do you like most about it?  And least?

I have been at the Australian National Library as University Librarian for almost 9 years. It is my first job in the higher education sector. When I was interviewed (there were 9 on the panel!) my key points, as I recall, were a passion for inspiring excellence through student experience and an ability to deal with complex clients. I had been Parliamentary Librarian for 7 years.  The interviewing panel thought there might be some similarities between serving members of parliament and serving academics.

At the university my portfolio includes libraries, archives, digital scholarship, the ANU Press and digital literacy. The team is amazing: we work with everyone in the university in some way. My passion is connecting people to knowledge and pretty much all aspects of this are included in the work of the Division.

I love working with my colleagues on new ways to open up access to knowledge and ideas.

Now for the confession, I would love to do less paperwork and use more of that time to work with the team!

Tell us a bit more about ANU Press, why it was set up, your own role.

ANU Press was established in 2003 and officially launched in 2004, with the aim of exploring and enabling new modes of scholarly publishing. It was Australia’s first fully open access scholarly press. We have worked through various strategic changes to foster innovation in scholarly publishing, find new ways to engage with authors and students and move beyond the concept of knowledge trapped behind paywalls.  We were initially focused on communicating the research of ANU scholars and have now increased the eligibility authors who may publish and steadily added other new dimensions.

I am very fortunate to be head of the division in which the ANU Press sits and to work on the Advisory Committee.

What has the pandemic meant for you? What have been its highs and lows?

Life in 2020 has been an endless parade of calamities. We have had bushfires, campus closures owing to smoke, hailstorms which destroyed library and other roofs and very many cars and then COVID-19.

I think a big high is the fantastic support within our teams for colleagues, assisting and caring for each other in times of stress.  The strong team approach across the whole university has been very inspiring.

As we reach the end of the year, perhaps the two lows are having to say farewell to many staff owing to the university’s downsizing; and the fact that having to endure so many disasters in such a short space of time has been wearing on the heart and soul of the community. We have not been able to engage as deeply or personally because of the time we’ve had to spend off campus and the move to digital communication, even though under the circumstances that was, of course, very appropriate.

What is the most challenging thing you’ve had to deal with in your career; and the thing that makes you most proud?

I think the most challenging matter this year has been the separation of so many staff from our team, people whose contribution to the university and division has been terrific over a sustained period. They remain part of our family but have found that financially it was the right time for them to go.

I am extremely proud of the achievements of the team in working together and keeping the heart and soul of the university alive through all the work of the division. We have created new relationships with students and academics to make the university a success in 2020.

If you look into your crystal ball, what do you think will happen to librarianship in Australia (or everywhere if you prefer) in the next 3 – 5 years?

Given the changes taking place in teaching, I think that academic librarianship will focus on contributions to education with a greater sense of partnership, driven partly by the need to foster the digital education of staff and the academic community as a whole. This also brings to the fore the imperative for greater experimentation in digital delivery, discovery and scholarship. The spirit of partnership needs to extend to our work with publishers. I think OA will mature and that new models must be supported that will have disciplinary nuances and deep library involvement.

Library education is up for major debate. The evolution of micro-credentials and new forms of skilling must focus on “snack packs” to upgrade our knowledge and build stronger partnerships with employers.

Finally linking up the GLAM sector to tackle fundamental policy issues – such as copyright – is essential

Would you mind saying a little more about your personal life – children, hobbies, etc.?

Life provides many challenges and the joy of my husband’s and my life are our two grandchildren, who are aged 2 and 7 – princesses with a lot of energy. Not to forget our three grown up children!  I am a keen quilter – every time I complete a quilt I swear not to buy more fabric as the stash is overtaking the spare room. My current project is a quilt for the youngest grandchild, which has an image from Totoro of May: Saski, Totoro and the two small animals are appliquéd in the middle.  And the garden and chickens are calling too!

[This interview was conducted by Linda Bennett, Gold Leaf]

Academic Publishing, Sustainability

Sustainability I – FSC certification

Following the advent of digital publishing at the start of the millennium, one of the key arguments to encourage the switch from print was ecological. Digital enthusiasts were quick to claim that using less paper and shipping fewer print books would help to save the environment. Maintaining sustainability in the publishing sector is, however, much more complex; and debates on sustainability began in the industry many years ago, even before digitisation was feasible on a mass scale. Today it has become one of the most pressing issues the industry has to address. Among the most important factors to consider is the carbon footprint: minimising a publisher’s carbon footprint has become the first priority when addressing sustainability targets across the whole industry. It exercises the minds of both trade and academic publishers, as well as paper manufacturers, printers, distributors and even authors and illustrators. A crucial way of achieving this is to build a circular economy which eliminates waste and re-uses resources wherever possible. The paper production industry, which arguably has been under pressure not to waste natural resources for longer than most others, has travelled the furthest distance in this respect; more than 70% of the paper produced in Europe uses pulp; and paper produced in this way can be re-used up to 7 times. Forestry in Europe has also been managed sustainably for the past decade, meaning that carbon dioxide emissions, the biggest problem for the paper manufacturing industry, are being mitigated by the continuing replenishment of the vegetation that combats them.

The FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) was set up to create a global sustainability accreditation in 1993, and along with other environmental standards, such as ISO 14001 and EMAS (EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme) has closely supervised sustainability for nearly 30 years.

But how does FSC certification actually work?

The certificate is available to various industries, including paper and cardboard manufacturing; some very specific sector-specific guidance has to be observed in order to gain the award. A key aspect is the use only of wood derived from sustainable forestry, but there is much more to it than that. Frequently-audited Forest Management is only one of two main components that are necessary for a FSC certification; the other one is Chain of Custody certification. This ensures that any company involved in the processing of FSC certified products continues to observe specific regulations and uses checked FSC-labelled woods only. For publishers and printers to become FSC certified, the use of certified papers is obviously essential, but they also are required to use FSC certified printers and distributors. For a product to carry the FSC label at the point of sale, every stage of the process has to be covered by FSC certification – from the forest itself to the finished printed book.
For publishers requiring more information, a fact sheet can be downloaded here.

Many other companies in the supply chain – notably publishers themselves – have felt obliged to develop internal sustainability strategies and find solutions for reducing their own carbon footprint. This has included the move to PoD [Print on Demand] to reduce the numbers of books printed unnecessarily, collaboration with printing companies who in turn are using sustainable methods and ensuring that materials such as inks, packaging and wrapping are as environmentally-friendly as possible; and the use of a sustainable energy supply.

To develop an industrywide sustainability strategy, the Publishers Association launched a Sustainability Taskforce in early 2020. We will talk a bit more about the aims of this in another blog post…

[Written by Annika Bennett, Gold Leaf]

QuoScript

QuoScript – “Whither Writing” – is launched

Linda Bennett describes QuoScript, a new publishing venture

QuoScript is a new publishing venture set up by myself and a group of colleagues who together have many years’ experience of working in different roles within the publishing industry. We are primarily driven by the desire to give new authors a chance.  Many publishing companies have reduced or halted their publishing programmes because of Covid; and some agents are not taking on new authors. 

We have decided to accept fiction submissions only during QuoScript’s first year, primarily from crime writers, to be published under the Poisoned Chalice imprint and Young Adult authors, whom we’ll publish under the Tusk imprint.  Later we want to branch out much more – we’re interested in various kinds of non-fiction, for example, including academic monographs; and we’d like to be able to cover the whole fiction spectrum.

Building a viable supply chain for a new small publisher has been fun but challenging.  We’re fortunate to have the support of the Ingram group and Print Force – together they fulfil most of the main supply chain functions.  Our two main supply-chain partners and two other small presses whose books we shall host will help us to achieve critical mass. We’re also keen to harness new design talent to work on book jackets and typesetting.

The other two presses I mentioned are, first of all, Hope and Plum Publishing, part of SHHH media, which was set up by Stacey Haber, a talented author, playwright and TV script writer. Stacey presents her own programme on Sky Feel Good Factor TV.  It is called “Girls Talk” and first airs on 7th November. She publishes a range of fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. The other press is DoubleA Publishing, a Ukraine-based independent publishing company set up by Andrew Afonin, who is passionate about disseminating the work of Ukrainian authors. As QuoScript develops we’ll choose other independent publishers that fit in well with our ethos, which is all about good writing.  We shall welcome authors who want to write about a wide spectrum of topics and from all kinds of backgrounds; but they must be united in their ability to write powerfully and compellingly.  And any publishers who partner with us must be passionately committed to all the books on their list. Initially, because our focus is on trade fiction, our first publications will be in paperback and e-book format only.  Later we may commission books that really need to be made available in hardback – but that’s quite a long way off.

 There are details on the website about how to submit MSSs –  see www.quoscript.co.uk. This month we’ve also launched a writing competition: see https://quoscript.co.uk/national-novel-writing-month-the-quoscript-challenge/

Gold Leaf will provide occasional updates on QuoScript as it develops.

[Written by Linda Bennett, Gold Leaf]

Deutsch, Digital Publishing, Open Access

Enable! – A new platform for Open Access Books in the Humanities and Social Sciences

The German “Projekt DEAL” initiative has gained worldwide attention; for several years, the “Alliance of German Science Organizations”, which effectively represents all universities and research institutions in Germany, has been negotiating ground-breaking Open Access agreements with large journals publishers, most notably Wiley and Springer Nature. These deals apply mainly to large quantities of journals; institutions have been able to re-allocate substantial journals subscriptions budgets to Open Access fees in “Read to Publish”- or “Publish to Read”-style agreements.

“Projekt DEAL” has proven successful to some considerable extent; however, smaller publishers and those specialising in Humanities and Social Sciences have – for a variety of reasons – never been the focus of the negotiations and have therefore felt left out. The main point of criticism has been that DEAL has created new structures without any transparency, with a primary focus on merely re-allocating budgets of many millions of Euros.

To create a counterweight in the German publishing landscape and to put more emphasis on the importance of Open Access in the Humanities and Social Sciences, a new initiative was launched at the end of May 2020. Under the name of “Enable!”, a new platform was created to cater for a network of libraries, publishers and authors to support Open Access in the Humanities and Social Sciences. The platform uses the German language, though it supports publication in English as well as German. It has been designed as a publishing platform for OA books – and currently hosts just under 100 titles, predominately in the subjects of pedagogy, law and political sciences – but also functions as a networking platform, with a news section and a discussion forum for registered members.

Libraries that have signed the Mission Statement (see below) include the university libraries of Bielefeld, Cologne, Jena, Muenster, Humboldt University and TU Berlin, as well as the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.
Among the first publishers to become members were De Gruyter, Transcript Verlag, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Mohr Siebeck, Georg Olms Verlag and wbv Media.
Other industry bodies, such as Knowledge Unlatched and the library suppliers Lehmans and Dietmar Dreier, have also signed the mission statement.

The main points of the mission statement[1] are as follows:

  • Our aim as an “ENABLE! Community” is to develop a culture of open access publications in the social sciences and humanities (SSH) that is oriented towards open science and is supported by everyone. In contrast to the developments in the STM area, it’s aimed to be an inclusive culture of varied nature.
  • In the social sciences and humanities, monographs and compilations are to be included in the implementation of open access in the same way as journal articles, because they are of considerable importance within science communication and likewise for the reputation of the authors.
  • All players in academic publishing should be involved in this development: researchers, their universities, libraries, professional bodies, specialist repositories, publishers, suppliers as well as service providers.
  • We welcome the diversity of perspectives and approaches in world of academic publication and consider this valuable for the sustainable implementation of an open access transformation. It is obvious to us that the change from a publication culture based on rarity and exclusivity to an open, discipline-oriented one is of unparalleled importance and takes time. But we don’t want to lose time either.
  • We want to bundle the local approaches, methods and initiatives that have emerged in recent years and drive forward a joint co-publishing model. At the same time, we develop generally applicable and scalable standards, processes and indicators that are fair, predictable, comparable and sustainable.
  • We call on science policy and science funding to take a closer look at and promote the social sciences and humanities in relation to open access with their diverse publication cultures. Our disciplines, like others, serve global networks and aim to reach wide audiences.
  • All contributions that are developed in committees and working groups of the ENABLE! Community are being published under a CC license (preferably CC-BY).
  • Participation in the ENABLE! Community is open to anyone who wants to share and further develop these goals.

[1] The full mission statement and list of signatories can be found here: https://www.enable-oa.org/mission-statement

General, Students, Trends in Publishing

Is the British education system racially prejudiced?

This is a delicate topic, but as it’s so much in the news at the moment, we thought we ought not to ignore it.

There is, of course, a mountain of statistics to support the assertion that our education system is stacked against people from BAME communities, but also other evidence to illustrate that black and Asian students often go on to be spectacular achievers if they succeed in being admitted to tertiary education. Usually, but not always, these students encounter less prejudice at university – probably because many universities exercise a different kind of prejudice: they are meritocracies. This may be accompanied by the strong feeling in some of the older generation of academics that all that has to be overcome is the same kind of prejudice as that of working-class undergraduates that they themselves triumphed against in the 1970s and 1980s. To muddy the waters even further, white working-class boys emerged some time ago as the group least likely to succeed academically.

It is an unquestionable fact that to get to university you have to succeed at school. If there is racial prejudice, therefore, it seems likely that this is where the problem may lie. Is racial prejudice institutionalised, perhaps covertly, in our schools?

We interviewed a senior teacher who has worked for many years in one of the UK’s largest and most successful comprehensive schools. For obvious reasons, he wishes to remain anonymous, but he spoke to us with passion about this issue.

The school in question was created by the amalgamation of two grammar schools in the 1970s, after which the combined institution became comprehensive. Although the two schools had always educated pupils of different nationalities and creeds, they had been mainly white and predominantly European, as well as academically able in the conventional sense. The school immediately at that point began to enrol pupils from BAME (though this collective term had not been coined then) backgrounds as well, until eventually the school’s population represented over thirty-five different home languages.

There were many difficulties at first which, although the school recognised them, were difficult to resolve. Some teachers were undoubtedly racially prejudiced or old-fashioned meritocrats who were suspicious of or impatient with people from different cultures. As time went on and these older teachers retired, the school was able to develop robust recruitment techniques which ensured that all the staff – including a growing army of non-teaching and support staff, from caretakers to teaching assistants to specialists in the education of children with identified needs to attendance and home liaison officers – were much more representative of the school’s population make-up, shared the same values and agreed on how they would work with students from all backgrounds to provide each child with the support and personal resources to progress well educationally. The school considered it vital to have transparency and clarity through policies carefully constructed by consultation that embraced governors, staff, parents, children and other relevant stakeholders.  

Cultural stereotyping was a more subtle problem. Well-meaning teachers and external influencers might, for example, think it a good idea to set up a steel band for black students and in fact the school experimented with this, but discovered that such a move immediately set participating pupils apart and formed them into a kind of elite. To be properly egalitarian and truly non-racist, the school needed, perhaps by deliberately accommodating particular cultural needs, to encourage BAME students to feel able, by choice, to participate in any school activity. Celebration of individual achievement became central to the approach.

Addressing behavioural issues was another important factor and the students themselves had to understand that, when they were being asked to modify their behaviour, this wasn’t a reflection on their culture, but simply a request to act with courtesy and consideration for others. “At any one time, black students never formed more than five per cent of the school’s total numbers – there were many more Asians – but the black students seemed to be everywhere. The lads in particular were strapping and noisily extrovert. If someone slipped and fell in the corridor, they would find it hilarious and laugh and shout and point. They had to learn to be more aware of the effect they were having on others. It was vital to develop in all pupils the capacity for empathy, rather than simply applying behavioural sanctions.”

Some of these same black pupils proved to be very academically capable indeed once they understood they were valued for themselves and settled down to work. However, over time the school’s own attitude towards what constituted success changed dramatically. Its roots were in the traditional grammar school system of hothousing high academic achievers and rewarding academic success, but by the 1990s its guiding principle was that every student was of equal importance and that each could achieve things which all could celebrate. Mutual kindness and mutual appreciation of talents of all kinds became its mantra. The emphasis was firmly on individual and personal needs and how those should best be met, whether they be educational, medical, cultural, religious, gender-related, social or even financial. It was clear that the school’s internal communication of pupil-specific information must be first-rate, confidential and effectively applied.

Both BAME and ‘Caucasian’ students who attended this school are now doctors, teachers, scientists, academics, members of the police or armed forces and politicians. Some are actors, artists and singers. Others are plumbers, bricklayers, secretaries and hairdressers. Across all walks of life, many have kept in touch with each other. Some return to the school to encourage those studying there today, when the students come from even more diverse backgrounds than previously. The school is now one of the most successful comprehensive schools in the country.  It is, however, the painful truth that not all UK schools have taken a similar approach. Schools with less mixed populations perhaps have not developed the expertise or felt the need to pay so much attention to the preparation of their pupils for the multi-cultural world they will enter as employees; such institutions may not have the resources, both human and material, to reflect the rich mixture of British society. Yet they have a duty to prepare their pupils not just with academic skills, but with the social capability that comes from knowledge and understanding of others and with values that will prevent any inclination to stereotype those who may seem different. As I was writing this, the announcement was made that this year’s British Bookseller Awards were dominated by black female authors. Candace Carty-Williams won overall book of the year with her debut novel Queenie; Oyinkan Braithwaite won crime and thriller book of the year with My Sister the Serial Killer; and Bernardine Evaristo, joint Booker winner for Girl, Woman, Other was named Author of the Year.

[Written by Linda Bennett, Gold Leaf]

Academic Publishing, Bookselling, Digital Publishing, VAT

Don’t Tax Reading: the case against VAT on knowledge

The removal of VAT from electronic publications earlier this year was the triumphant culmination of a vigorous campaign that had been led by publishers, booksellers, writers, librarians, teachers and readers over many decades to protest against taxation on knowledge. Originally it was started to save print books from tax: after VAT was introduced to the UK in 1973, successive governments had cast envious eyes on the thriving book and newspaper industries and debated whether to slap this surcharge  on their products, perhaps at a lower rate than for other consumer goods, as other European countries had already done.  Protests began immediately; there were crises as the threat reappeared periodically, which the campaigners always won – VAT has never been imposed on printed publications in the UK – but sometimes the victory was a close-run thing.

To a significant extent, the advent of e-books hobbled the power of those watchful that the government of the day might target print books again. VAT was imposed on e-books immediately they became commercially available, because it was argued that they should be treated in the same way as the products of the music industry – records, cassettes and CDs. Publishers, especially, were worried that if they protested too loudly the government might retaliate by imposing VAT on print publications rather than removing it from electronic ones.

When Annika wrote about the freeing of electronic publications from VAT a few weeks ago, I remembered a book had been published detailing the early struggles.  I have a copy and had hoped to quote from it.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it then, but yesterday was finally reunited with it. Published in 1985, it’s even more venerable than I thought.  It was designed to be submitted to the Treasury when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and Nigel Lawson the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and commissioned by an organisation called the National Book Committee.  (I’ve looked this up: it no longer exists, but in the foreword, contributed by its “Chairman” [sic], Baroness David, she explains that it represented “all the major organisations concerned with the production and reading of books”.) It was written by Marita Evans of W H Smith and Brenda White of CPI Associates (a research organisation similar to Gold Leaf), supported by several prominent academics, including Dr Frank Fishwick, of the University of Cranfield (with whom Gold Leaf subsequently worked on a JISC report on e-books).

Don’t Tax Reading: the case against VAT on knowledge is a fascinating compendium of history, economic argument, statements from prominent authors and accounts of the legal and political debates on the dissemination of knowledge that have taken place since the middle of the nineteenth century. Below are some selected quotations that seem particularly relevant.

“In 1941, in the darkest days of the Second World War, when the Government needed every penny it could get, the idea of a tax on books, on knowledge, was rejected.”

“Any attempt to separate out books of ‘non-educational value’ for taxation would lead to absurd judgements having to be made.  Fiction and poetry, for example, classical or popular, are just as important to understanding, literacy, and to our culture as serious works for formal education.”

“It seems that each generation has had to fight for the independence of the written word .. if this generation is to win its round, we must use words and tactics that are relevant today.  The arguments of the eighties.”

“The Government record for skimping on school books is abysmal: where among every twenty young adults leaving school – not even a classroom-full – there is at least one who is effectively illiterate; where a Government that is introducing huge training programmes to make sure that school-leavers are employable in our fast-thinking, fast-technology society, is now proposing to tax the basis by which those children’s minds are trained – the written word.”

“The National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education stated the following: ‘At a time when the Government is crying out for a better-educated work force, imposing a tax on books is not only illogical, it is stark-raving mad. Further and higher education students would need an extra £1.5 million in grants to enable them to buy their books if VAT is imposed. Will the Government provide this? We think not. Students will be penalised and their access to books reduced. And those students already least able to afford books will be the hardest hit.’”

Some of these statements seem quaint to us now. Grants? Today’s students should be so lucky! And  in 1985 students paid no tuition fees. The £1.5 million figure given as a proportion of overall student spend on books is illuminating: in 1985 the proportion of school leavers entering Higher Education was still only approximately 15%. Most were spending – and expected to spend – more in actual amounts – i.e., not adjusted for inflation – than students expect to spend today. The concept of the UK aspiring to a “fast-thinking, fast-technology society” in 1985 may seem risible to us; but no doubt future generations will be having a similar laugh at our expense in 2055.

However, much of the information captured in these extracts raises serious questions about how much progress we’ve made in the intervening 35 years. The Literacy Trust says that 1 in 7 adults in the UK today has the reading age of a child of nine or lower. There is still under-investment in our schools. In 2015, Iain Duncan Smith, the then Work and Pensions Secretary and prominent member of the Cameron administration, congratulated the government because the number of children living in poverty had “dropped to 2.3 million” – “the lowest since the mid-1980s”.  That figure was shocking; and even more shocking was that the government thought achieving the child poverty level of thirty years before was a cause for celebration. There has been further deterioration since: the Children’s Society estimates that four million children are living in poverty in 2020.

Social imbalance and educational under-achievement are of course the result of a complex mixture of factors; they can’t be attributed to a single cause. Neither can a “silver bullet” be conjured to remedy them. However, enabling affordable access to knowledge in all its formats has to be the greatest single action a government can take to alleviate these ills. Let us hope that the removal of VAT from every kind of publication is permanent; but if its shadow looms again, key stakeholders must surely unite again to protect knowledge.

[Written by Linda Bennett, Gold Leaf]