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Academic Publishing in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Status, Challenges & Opportunities

A Changing Landscape

The Gulf Council Countries (GCC) are undergoing transformations in education reform, social policy, and the promotion of increased civil competence among their residents. Research’s role in analysis and innovation, and its dissemination, is key to success in these transformations. However, barriers remain in publishing quality academic research in the GCC. A better understanding of the challenges and opportunities of publishing is needed to make further gains.

The Gulf region’s social and cultural transformations require unique spaces for publications, driven by ethical, rigorous standards. Over the last decade, knowledge production has gained prominence in the GCC. A rise in higher education institutions and research productivity is promising. This productivity mirrors the institutions’ clear career progression metrics involving research and publishing outputs.

Rigorous evidence-based research has the potential to have a substantial effect on critical policymaking. It can challenge previous norms, encourage growth, respond to needs, and promote new conversations. Previous decades’ low research productivity and subsequent weak effect on policies are being overcome by the current rise in academic research. This is encouraging for the creation of better education, health, and other social policies. Education and social policies have previously been paid less attention in the GCC. In light of global trends on and including international education assessments, gender, and achievement, these policies are under greater focus. Shifting policy, practice, and funding agendas have led to the generation of more scholarship in, and on, the region by local and international scholars and contractors, specifically in areas of social policy and education development.

The social sciences and the arts play a vital role in a growing knowledge society. Yet, specific challenges exist for those conducting social policy and education research in the region. STEM fields have traditionally received greater support and funding. Well-funded departments with access to databases, greater avenues for publishing, and more networking opportunities are generally more available for STEM researchers. In the field of social sciences, the challenges include agendas that can inhibit critical research; selecting the language of publishing (Arabic versus English) to reach a larger audience for issues that are both locally and globally relevant; lack of funds, thus inhibiting access to literature accessible only behind paywalls; and the rise of low-quality and predatory journals that aim to take advantage of vulnerable scholars.

Furthermore, social science scholars in the Global South including the Gulf and Arab world, may feel obliged to publish only in western or international journals in English, which appear to command greater prestige and value for career growth. Such practices can adversely support neo-colonial paradigms, marginalizing local languages such as Arabic in the process. Moreover, the GCC has diverse complex societies that are emerging into new ways of knowing and being. Self-identification with multifaceted identities and growth especially through equitable opportunities in education requires attention to new methods of publishing research that is more accessible. Thus, creating spaces for quality open access bilingual journals that reflect and refract the challenges, goals, and identities of the Gulf region and beyond is paramount.


Where to Publish: Quality Open Access Journals Based on Rigorous and Ethical Peer Review

Currently, both scholars and readers face restrictions in academic publishing. The model of open access journals, which make available their publications free of charge to readers, was meant to combat many of the ills of academic publishing. Precautions remain, however. Bohannon (2013) provides evidence of low-quality control in open access journals. Potential authors have to be wary of lack of peer review of their articles and predatory publishing practices including demands for payment before a journal will accept a submission for review. Consequently, scholars may be apprehensive about low-quality open access journals that cannot provide adequate visibility to their published research.

Readers whose institutions cannot afford subscriptions to databases are restricted from accessing quality peer reviewed journals behind paywalls. Many of these readers are in the Global South. Such practices in publishing challenge the potential impact, stakeholder buy-in, and long-term opportunities and reputations of studies, scholars, and institutions. One solution is to create high-quality, reputable open access journals which offer a rigorous peer review process and make their publications available free of charge to readers.

Locally published open access journals that adhere to international standards of quality and ethics can counter the negative perception of open access journals. Launching quality open access, peer-reviewed, bi-lingual journals in which both established and emerging scholars across the global landscape are comfortable sending submissions has the capacity to change the paradigm of academic publishing for increased equity and open exchange of ideas. Such initiatives will have the impact of highlighting lesser known but emerging voices who are engaging in critical issues, placing them in meaningful conversation with others across borders and boundaries.


Natasha Mansur is a non-resident researcher and the managing editor of the Gulf Education and Social Policy Review, an open-access, peer-reviewed, bilingual journal affiliated with the Gulf Comparative Education Society and published by the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research. Read the first issue here.