Making an open source thesis

Front page of thesis

I’ve just — finally — submitted my politics Masters thesis to the Victoria University of Wellington library, and I thought it might be interesting to note down a few things I did along the way. I’m really interesting in open source, so I thought it would be a good idea to walk the talk and make an open source thesis.

Using open source tools

One of the most obvious ways to make an open source thesis was is to use open source tools. I used LibreOffice Writer to write all 42,000 words of it. Using LO writer was an almost entirely pain free process, except for a couple of admittedly stressful times when the xml of the file got corrupted and I had to revert to old versions to rescue my work.

I also analysed my focus group transcripts using the open source qualitative data analysis tool RQDA. It was really easy and worked really well — I would definitely recommend it.

Add a creative commons licence

I chose to license my thesis under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 Licence. The licence basically allows anyone to share or remix my work as long as they attribute me as the creator and share their subsequent creation with the same licence (or a compatible one). While I think I’m pretty realistic about the fact that pretty much noone is ever going to look at my thesis, I think it’s cool to think that someone might come along and do something interesting with my work.

The international Creative Commons organisation has been advocating for students to license their theses since at least 2009. There must be huge numbers of theses now out there available to read, remix and build on. It’s much easier to stand on the metaphorical shoulders of giants in scholarship when everything is free to read!

Making your thesis open access

The university where I studied has a good open access repository, so I’ll be putting my thesis in the open access section so anyone can view it and download it for free. I think adding your work to the open access repository is a fantastic idea — it’s the best way to make it available so people will actually read it.

University specialisation

“[Robert Stout] went on to elaborate how, in the interests of economy, each [university] college could specialise: Otago in medicine; Canterbury in engineering and agriculture; Auckland, being a maritime city, in astronomy, navigation, mechanical engineering and the like. ‘So far as Wellington is concerned, it is the seat of Parliament and the seat of the Court of Appeal. This city might be prominent for its special attention to jurisprudence, to law, to political science, to history.’ It was a vision that would prove remarkably prescient.”

Victoria University of Wellington 1899 ~ 1999: A History

I happened across this history of Victoria University on the NZETC website. In this passage, Robert Stout is speaking in a parliamentary debate about his vision for a university college in Wellington. (Originally there was one ‘University of New Zealand’ with different ‘colleges’ around the country – eventually they got split up and each called a university in their own right.)

It seems sort of quaint in this day and age to think about each university in NZ specialising in certain subjects, but in some ways it makes a lot of sense. I don’t think the way universities are currently competing against each other for students, and gradually expanding the subjects on offer over time, is rational at all. For instance, do we really need six different universities offering law? There’s some argument for allowing people some choice in where they study, but to me that seems like an extraordinary duplication of resources.

Universities at heart are public institutions – even if they’ve been made to compete for customers under the current model. Maybe we should think about the Government playing a bigger role in reducing overlap between the institutions and reinvesting that money into a better quality education for everyone.