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How can we make research more inclusive of the Global South?

December 14, 2022 | 7 min read

By James Ade, Chiara Ciuffa

Three journal editors talk about challenges faced by Global South researchers — and give their best advice to younger researchers

Elsevier’s new report Pathways to Net Zero: Global South Research in the Transition to Clean Energy makes the case that for clean energy and carbon capture research to succeed, researchers in the Global South need to be fully included in the conversation. That goes for many other areas of research, whether it’s health, social sciences or economics: research benefits from increased support for South-South collaboration as well as South-North collaboration with improved levels of parity among researchers.

To make research more inclusive of the Global South, however, there are challenges to overcome. Dr Helen Hoka Osiolo(opens in new tab/window), Senior Climate Change Researcher and Lecturer at Strathmore Institute of Mathematical Sciences(opens in new tab/window) in Nairobi, Kenya, and Research Fellow with the Environment for Development(opens in new tab/window) network Nairobi, sees two main challenges:

One is the lower numbers of research publications; the other is lower citations of already published research.

Helen noted that even when research was conducted in the Global South, it was often Global North researchers who ran the projects and published the research:

The incorporation of researchers and co-investigators from Global South on issues affecting Global South and researched within Global South geographical locations is limited. So project outputs such as patents, published articles, etc, to mention a few from Global South, are very limited.

Image of Helen Hoka Osiolo, Ph.D

Helen Hoka Osiolo, PhD

So how can publishers and editors help address this imbalance? Dr Jyoti Phirani(opens in new tab/window) is a Lecturer and Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, UK, whose work focuses on sustainable energy, including the geological sequestration of CO2 and hydrogen, ground water remediation and conventional and unconventional energy resources. She’s currently on leave from her position as Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the India Institute of Technology(opens in new tab/window) in Delhi. She’s also the former Executive Editor of Gas Science and Engineering.

As someone who has built a career spanning India and UK, Jyoti understands the importance of bringing a range of voices to research topics:

We have discussions on representing all the voices in our journal in terms of our editorial board, associate editors, reviewers. It’s important for a balanced approach. I would like to see more diversity in terms of gender, nations, race in the editors and reviewers. The research community has made a few steps in that direction, but we need to pick up momentum now.

Image of Jyoti Phirani, Ph.D

Jyoti Phirani, PhD

Dr Mohammad Ahmad Al-Nimr(opens in new tab/window), Distinguished Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Jordan University of Science and Technology(opens in new tab/window). He noted that, as Editor-in-Chief of Energy Conversion and Management(opens in new tab/window)(ECM)and its open access companion journal Energy Conversion and Management: X (opens in new tab/window), he too looks for ways to drive diversity through his journals:

Every time we assign a new editor/associate editor/JAB member, we try to take geographical and gender balance into consideration. Currently we have two female editors from two Global South countries among eight editors in ECM, and we have just assigned a new female editor from the UAE, who will be joining us next month.

Image of Prof Mohammad Ahmad Al-Nimr, Ph.D

Prof Mohammad Ahmad Al-Nimr, PhD (Photo © Mohammad Hija Photography)

Picking up on the same point as Jyoti, he noted that academic publishing could go further still in ensuring geographical diversity:

I think the publisher could impose a quota so there is a minimum percentage of editors, associate editors, and board members from the Global South and for gender diversity too, especially with women from the Global South, with this quota being managed gradually with time.

Mohammad explained that while journal standards should always be maintained, it was still possible for journals to make an additional effort to promote research from the Global South to address inequalities with the Global North:

We give a special attention to submissions from countries that do not have significant number of submissions. Of course, the selected research should satisfy minimum requirements of a high Impact Factor journal, but from our point of view, being from Global South countries will be a plus.

The second challenge Helen highlighted was that citations were often lower for researchers in the Global South once research had been published. As an Associate Editor of Energy for Sustainable Development(opens in new tab/window), she indicated that publishers have a role to play here too:

Many organizations lack budgets to support Article Processing Charges (APCs) to allow for open access of the published articles. On the other hand, because of inadequate funding, these organizations are also not able to subscribe to several publishers to make the published article accessible to academia and research organizations.

Mohammad agreed, suggesting that publishers conduct more training in Global South countries:

I would like to see more training sessions for young researchers, as Elsevier normally provides. 

He suggested the training focus on “selecting good research ideas and suitable journals, writing good papers, conducting thorough comprehensive literature surveys, and publication ethics.”

Elsevier’s support for open access in the developing world

As one of the fastest-growing open access publishers in the world, Elsevier enables open access publishing for nearly all its 2,700 journals, including 600+ fully gold open access journals. This allows researchers to share knowledge, data and findings with the wider community.

With the goal to effectively bridge the digital research divide and ensure that publishing in open access journals is accessible for authors in developing countries, all gold open access journals published by Elsevier are included in the Research4Life open access eligibility program, offering authors APC waivers or discounts.

As one of the six founding partners of Research4Life(opens in new tab/window) — a UN-publishers partnership providing access to academic content to the developing world — Elsevier contributes over 20% of the 194,000+ free resources available through Research4Life. Additionally, the Elsevier Foundation supports Research4Life with grants for information literacy capacity building, most recently through the Country Connectors program(opens in new tab/window).

Learn about open access at Elsevier

Advice for early-career researchers

While there are challenges for researchers in the Global South, Mohammad, Helen and Joyti all had heartfelt words of encouragement to offer.

Mohammad encouraged researchers to be actively engaged in the research process and seek out opportunities:

I would encourage younger researchers to concentrate on working and linking, in an active and effective manner, with regional/international research groups, focus on high impact prestigious journals, and being active reviewers. Taking the initiative is something I would also strongly encourage, for example, in organizing special issues if there is an opportunity and in being a guest editor. The researcher can take the initiative by contacting the EIC.

Helen recommended steps to advance as a researcher and editor:

Developing a role either as a researcher or an editor requires curiosity, patience, open mindedness, integrity, being logical and analytical. These attributes don’t all come at once. It takes time.

As initial steps, start by developing and implementing the research, peer reviewing your colleague’s research and allowing your colleague to review your research — and learning from the whole process. The next steps are to volunteer to be discussants internally and gradually outside your organization and also taking volunteer roles later as a reviewer for journals.

Jyoti, meanwhile, homed in on the experience of rejection, which is something researchers all over the world will encounter at points in their career:

I read somewhere that during academic life, there will be many rejections: rejected papers, rejected grants, etc. In those times when you feel low, keep a list of letters and emails of your appreciations. Those will keep you going. This has helped me a lot, and I would give the same advice to aspiring academics that do not fear rejection. Keep an eye on the positive and you will sail through. And prioritize health. Everything else can wait — your promotion, your next paper — but health cannot.



James Ade

Publishing Internship


Image of Chiara Ciuffa


Chiara Ciuffa

Publishing Support Manager

Global STM Journals at Elsevier