Universities and higher education institutions (HEIs) are knowledge intensive environments. Research and scholarship created here are institutional knowledge capital and must be managed as assets to give the institution a competitive edge in research and academic stature. The status and prestige of HEIs depend on the quality, visibility and accessibility of their research. As such, knowledge capital must be managed as assets that will ensure return on investment (ROI).
Scholarship availed in dissertations, theses, proceedings and publications form part of the institutional knowledge capital. Digitised institutional repositories (IRs) are the preferred method of showcasing scholarship on the internet, adding to the HEI’s web visibility. IRs developed over the past twenty years to become sophisticated networked digital research collections.
Research intensive universities and institutions reap benefits from showcasing scholarship digitally in well-developed IRs, as well as in peer reviewed academic journals. HEIs with well-developed and maintained IRs rank consistently higher on webometrics ranking sites. All HEI sectors have not benefited equally from IR developments, and many African HEIs still do not perform according to world trends observed on ranking sites and directories.
Globally, recent research indicates that valuable research output originates from both public and private HEIs, but scholarships are often not archived and curated sustainably in all cases. Despite rapid growth and developments in digital scholarship curation some private and public HEIs are lagging behind. Private HEIs in Southern Africa are still not visible and readily accessible on the web. Southern African private HEIs rank significantly lower than comparative public HEIs. Poor scholarship curation and lack of research visibility deter HEIs from taking their rightful place in higher education and higher education research communities. Where research collections are not managed sustainably as knowledge capital, full ROI will not be possible. Recently IR research changed focus, from an initial information management (IM) and information technology (IT) approach, when questions around the role of the human element in the process of scholarship curation came to the fore. Knowledge management (KM) principles such as scholarship as knowledge capital, the value of research and scholarship became topics of recent research. Although HEI are generally slow in implementing KM, the value of KM as an institutional strategy is increasingly being realised by global trendsetting HEIs.
The sustainability of IRs poses challenges in HEIs where the research culture is still not fully developed and the importance of sustainable scholarship collections not yet realised. Here, the benefits and value of research for the HEI cannot be optimised. Research curation is often not supported by the HEI’s research strategies, policies, archiving and curation procedures.
This study aimed to investigate digital scholarship curation trends in a purposefully selected target group of private and public HEIs in Southern Africa. Target groups were selected from the Ranking Web of Universities. The identified target groups were from Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. This mixed method study investigated digital scholarship curation trends in a purposefully selected target group of private and public HEIs in Southern Africa. Trends in the target group are compared with global IR trends, to identify potential sustainability risk factors. Empirical research data is triangulated with webometric content analysis to derive at solutions and best practices to ensure sustainable scholarship curation in IRs. A socio-technical model towards sustainable scholarship curation is offered, to identify the IR sustainability domain.
This study offers a comprehensive definition of the sustainability domain for scholarship curation. It comprises a list of sustainability threats that must be avoided, and that should be seen as risk indicators present on a governance, infrastructural, and institutional cultural level.