Evolution of Higher Education In Pakistan

“Man’s flight through life is sustained by the power of his knowledge.”

This statement by an unknown author holds so true in these times. Today, the world we live in revolves around information and knowledge. They are the driving factors for socio-economic development in the country. Human resources are the most critical asset we possess, and the way towards progress and development lies in heavy investment in training this human resource. Only then can a country’s human resources play an effective role in developing a knowledge economy in the competitive global environment.

With the successive and constant developments in all major fields, such as information technology, material sciences, biotechnology, management sciences, renewable energy, etc, the need for an effective training and education system for our youth is essential. These developments are rapidly changing the world. The countries that keep up with these changes, they become world leaders; the countries that don’t, are left behind. In order to keep up with these changes, we need to be able to set our human resource into motion at a moment’s notice, to grapple the latest bit of knowledge and innovations in all fields.

Several developing countries have taken initiatives and focused on the development of new disciplinary areas and have made enormous discoveries such as nanotechnology to leap frog ahead of the leading countries in the scientific world. Such developments are essential for countries such as Pakistan to rise into the list of developed or modern nations.

Knowledge, specially new knowledge about technology, requires a lot of research. Governments and organizations have to adapt new technology and innovations in all fields to keep up with the rest of the world. Such innovations require extensive research and development programs that need to be carried out by our universities and R&D organizations. Strengthening of our universities and R&D organizations, as well as establishing smooth and streamlined links between them and the industries are critical for the absorption of new technology and further innovations.

A strong R&D backbone translates into an increase of knowledge and innovations in our production and service sectors, which further translates into a considerable growth in our GDP. This growth and absorption of technology into the various sectors of our economy, combined with extensive development of our human resources are vital if we are to compete in the global economy.

Innovation plays an important role in several sectors of society, including the government, the private sector, universities and R&D institutes. Hence, innovation in the education sector is an area of utmost importance, as new developments in this sector will gradually bring changes in the complete system. New and improved teaching methodologies, examination systems or curriculum will lay the groundwork for a stronger economy and socio-economic system. These innovations will improve the quality of our human capital with enhanced training and skills, and will greatly speed up the progress of the country.

The world is rapidly going towards globalization and the establishment of a global economy. The concept of Global Economy requires an open mind, and out-of-the-box and lateral thinking. This means that we need to reassess and reconfigure our current education system to incorporate critical thinking, innovation, entrepreneurship, effective communication, teamwork orientation, and flexibility.

This is where the Higher Education Commission steps in. The commission was established to assist in transforming the country into a knowledge economy, a hub for knowledge and information. Ever since it was set up, the HEC has started on a systematic course of action to achieve the goals outlined in their Medium Term Development Framework, or the MTDF. They have identified Access, Quality, and Relevance as the most critical challenges of the sector.

To counter these challenges, they have come up with a strategy that encompasses Faculty Development, Improvement of Access, Excellence in Learning & Research, and Relevance to National Priorities. The most pertinent issues in the country are a lack of access to quality higher education and qualified faculty. These issues need to be addressed as they ensure the development of a skilled workforce which will develop the country further. Learning and Research are also important areas that need to be focused on as without them, we cannot progress our manufacturing and production sectors.

Programs focusing on the development of leadership, governance and management, as well as enhancing quality assessment and accreditation are already underway and the development of sound physical and technological infrastructures is also under way. These projects are key for the achievement of the core strategic aims.

The development of faculty is essential for improving the quality and standards of education in the country. Human resource development and enhancement of local research activities are key areas of several developmental projects. One key program set up by the commission is the Indigenous Scholarship Program. This program has awarded 2000 doctoral scholarships so far and the program has taken steps to ensure international standards of quality.

Another key program, the Foreign Scholarship Program, aims to improve the research and development base in areas that are crucial for the nation, specially focusing on engineering, applied and pure sciences. Links have been established with Germany, France, Austria, Sweden, Netherlands, Korea, China, US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand under this program, and more than 821 Masters and PhD level scholarships have been awarded so far. Another project, amounting to $250 million, to further fund 2000 students for foreign studies was recently approved by the government.

The world’s largest program, the Fulbright Scholarship Program, ($150 million) has been set up by the HEC with US assistance. Through this program, 640 students will study in top American universities while another 500 students will be awarded scholarships in Australia under the Australia Pakistan Scholarship Program. A program for funding Post Doctoral Fellowships has also been set up to place more than 255 scholars in premier academic and research institutions abroad for 9 to 12 month fellowships.

Additionally, the commission has also jump started the Foreign Faculty Hiring Program to recruit highly qualified teachers and scholars from abroad on short and long term contracts. More than 270 foreign faculty members have been recruited up till now through this program. An in-service teacher training program has also been set up which focuses on enhancement of subject knowledge, communication, computer, and teaching skills, as well as advanced assessment methodologies. It aims to train all active teachers in the next three years and more than 340 teachers have gone through this training program so far. Short term training sessions have also upgraded an additional 430 teachers. While in the past two years, the HEC has trained more than 2500 university teachers through various Master training courses. These scholarship and training programs are very critical to raise the standard of our education sector and will bring us on par with international norms.

Accessibility is a very critical factor that restricts our academic output, and with the increase in population and economic demands, addressing this factor is imperative for the country. Enrolment in universities is up by 40% and by 19% through distance learning programs due to a substantial program started by the commission to increase the number of seats available in universities.

Thirteen new universities are also being established to enhance the education sector further and due to the implementation of the indigenous PhD program, there has been a 56% increase in the number of students registered for PhD degrees.

The commission has set up 20 Central Research Laboratories in the major universities in Pakistan to improve and promote research in the country. Additionally, they have set up several programs that support and promote research such as the Competitive Research Program, which has funded over 333 other research programs. However, there is a need to set up more programs such as this to sponsor our researchers so they can participate in international conferences and workshops, presenting original papers.

The University Linkage Program has been established to link up our universities with international universities to increase international collaboration in our research programs. The commission has set up 50 such linkages with British universities based on this program and it aims to improve the quality of research.

The development programs started by the HEC are providing significant assistance to the engineering sector by providing funds for the strengthening of our current engineering departments and by establishing additional campuses and the development of central resource laboratories and institutes. Additionally, they are also supporting biotechnology by setting up institutes in Bio-Informatics, Proteomies, Stem Cell Research, Plant Genomics and Genetic Engineering.

Challenges and Opportunities in the Context of Internationalization of Higher Education

The World Bank’s 1991 ‘World Development Report’ has made a very interesting observation that the scientific and technological progress and enhanced productivity in any nation have a close link with investment in human capital as well as the quality of the economic environment. Scientific and technological capabilities are, however, unevenly distributed in the world and are linked with the education system in a nation.

The 21st century has seen quite massive changes in higher education systems both in terms of complexity of the systems and also in terms of its utility for converting education into an effective tool for social and economic changes. A very interesting relationship is emerging among education, knowledge, conversion of knowledge into suitable entities from trade point of view, wealth and economy.

Internationalization of education includes the policies and practices undertaken by academic systems and institutions-and even individuals-to cope with the global academic environment. The motivations for internationalization include commercial advantage, knowledge and language acquisition, enhancing the curriculum with international content, and many others. Specific initiatives such as branch campuses, cross-border collaborative arrangements, programs for international students, establishing English-medium programs and degrees, and others have been put into place as part of internationalization. Efforts to monitor international initiatives and ensure quality are integral to the international higher education environment.

The higher education system across the world has witnessed two more interesting revolutions. The first is connected with the advent and use of computers in teaching and learning as well as research and the second is linked with communication revolution. Today, education transcends across the geographical boundaries. Besides, the structure and context of academic work also has undergone a tremendous change. Student diversity and the administrative and pedagogical demands of new modes of curricula delivery characterize the academic’s everyday working environment.

The accomplishment of any educational change is linked with the readiness of teachers to implement new methods and innovative practices. The present paper is an attempt to understand the role of teachers in internationalization of higher education in India. The focus of the present paper is to be acquainted with the challenges and opportunities for faculty in the context of internationalization of higher education and their inclination to adapt the change.

Review of literature:

A growing number of papers and studies document the many ways in which the university experience of students, academic and administrative staff has been radically transformed [Chandler & Clark 2001, Deem 2001]. Student diversity and the administrative and pedagogical demands of new modes of curricula delivery characterize the academic’s everyday working environment. Identities as academics are under constant challenge as academic staff take on multiple and often conflicting roles as consultants, researchers, teachers, counselors and international marketers. Support for academics involved in international activities is scarce and the central strategic control of resources with its demands for flexibility compromises the quality of academic life.

A qualitative study examines the role of international experience in the transformative learning of female educators as it relates to professional development in a higher education context. It also investigates how the learning productions of these experiences were transferred to the participants’ home country. Nine American female faculty and administrators who worked at universities in Arab countries in the Gulf region participated in this study. The results suggest that the transformative learning of the female educators was reflected in three themes: changes in personal and professional attitudes, experiencing a new classroom environment that included different students’ learning style and unfamiliar classroom behavior, and broadening of participants’ global perspectives. Another study sought to assess how and why some higher education institutions have responded to aspects of globalization and, in particular how organizational culture influences universities’ responses to globalization. Using a predominantly qualitative, mixed-methods approach, empirical research was used to explore the impact of globalization at four Canadian universities. A multiple, case-study approach was used to achieve a depth of understanding to establish the universities’ culture, institutional strategies, and practices in response to globalization.

Context of the study:

Political & educational context

Everyone recognizes that India has a serious higher education problem. Although India’s higher education system, with more than 13 million students, is the world’s third largest, it only educates around 12 per cent of the age group, well under China’s 27 per cent and half or more in middle-income countries. Thus, it is a challenge of providing access to India’s expanding population of young people and rapidly growing middle class. India also faces a serious quality problem – given that only a tiny proportion of the higher education sector can meet international standards. The justly famous Indian Institutes of Technology and the Institutes of Management, a few specialized schools such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research constitute tiny elite, as do one or two private institutions such as the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, and perhaps 100 top-rated undergraduate colleges. Almost all of India’s 480 public universities and more than 25,000 undergraduate colleges are, by international standards, mediocre at best. India has complex legal arrangements for reserving places in higher education to members of various disadvantaged population groups. Often setting aside up to half of the seats for such groups, places further stress on the system.

Capacity problem

India faces severe problems of capacity in its educational system in part because of underinvestment over many decades. More than a third of Indians remain illiterate after more than a half century of independence. A new law that makes primary education free and compulsory, while admirable, it takes place in a context of scarcity of trained teachers, inadequate budgets, and shoddy supervision. The University Grants Commission and the All-India Council for Technical Education, responsible respectively for supervising the universities and the technical institutions, are being abolished and replaced with a new combined entity. But no one knows just how the new organization will work or who will staff it. India’s higher education accrediting and quality assurance organization, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council, which was well-known for its slow movement, is being shaken up. But, again, it is unclear how it might be changed.

Current plans include the establishing of new national “world-class” universities in each of India’s States, opening new IITs, and other initiatives. The fact is that academic salaries do not compare favorably with remuneration offered by India’s growing private sector and are uncompetitive by international standards. Many of India’s top academics are teaching in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere. Even Ethiopia and Eritrea recruit Indian academics.

Welcoming foreign universities:

Very recently it is announced that the government of India is preparing itself for permitting foreign universities to enter the Indian market. The foreigners are expected to provide the much needed capacity and new ideas on higher education management, curriculum, teaching methods, and research. It is hoped that they will bring investment. Top-class foreign universities are anticipated to add prestige to India’s postsecondary system. All of these assumptions are at the very least questionable. While foreign transplants elsewhere in the world have provided some additional access, they have not dramatically increased student numbers. Almost all branch campuses are small and limited in scope and field. In the Persian Gulf, Vietnam, and Malaysia, where foreign branch campuses have been active, student access has been only modestly affected by them. Branch campuses are typically fairly small and almost always specialized in fields that are inexpensive to offer and have a ready clientele such as business studies, technology, and hospitality management. Few branch campuses bring much in the way of academic innovation. Typically, they use tried and true management, curriculum, and teaching methods. The branches frequently have little autonomy from their home university and are, thus, tightly controlled from abroad.

Foreign providers will bring some investment to the higher education sector, particularly since the new law requires an investment of a minimum of $11 million – a kind of entry fee – but the total amount brought into India is unlikely to be very large. Global experience shows that the large majority of higher education institutions entering a foreign market are not prestigious universities but rather low-end institutions seeking market access and income. Top universities may well establish collaborative arrangement with Indian peer institutions or study/research centers in India, but are unlikely to build full-fledged branch campuses on their own. There may be a few exceptions, such as the Georgia Institute of Technology, which is apparently thinking of a major investment in Hyderabad.

Indian education is a joint responsibility of the Central and State governments – and many States have differing approaches to higher education generally and to foreign involvement in particular. Some, such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, have been quite interested. Other States such as West Bengal with its communist government may be more sceptical. And a few, such as Chhattisgarh have been known to sell access to university status to the highest bidders.

Significance of study:

The volatile situation in higher education system vis-à-vis internationalization of higher education creates many opportunities as well as challenges to the teachers of higher education. Pressures for change in the field of teacher education are escalating significantly as part of systemic education reform initiatives in a broad spectrum of economically developed and developing nations. Considering these pressures, it is surprising that relatively little theoretical or empirical analysis of learning and change processes within teacher education programs have been undertaken. The present study considers this situation and makes an endeavor to understand the challenges faced or anticipated by the teaching faculty in the context of internalization of education.

Aims of the study:

The present study is aimed to understand and analyze the position of college teachers in general and those of working undergraduate colleges.

Data collection:

Locale of the study:

Data for the present study is collected from the college teachers situated at Hyderabad. Colleges in Hyderabad are generally affiliated to Osmania University. In addition to various colleges, the city is home to three central universities, two deemed universities, and six state universities. Osmania University, established in 1917, is the seventh oldest university in India and the third oldest in South India. Indian School of Business, an international business school ranked number 12 in global MBA rankings by the Financial Times of London in 2010 is also located in Hyderabad.

Colleges in Hyderabad offer graduation and post graduation and post graduation programmes in science, arts, commerce, law & medicine. College of Engineering – Osmania University, Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Indian Institute of Technology, etc. are some of the famous engineering colleges in Hyderabad. In addition to engineering colleges, various institutes known as polytechnics offer a three year course in engineering. Gandhi Medical College and Osmania Medical College are the centers of medical education in Hyderabad. Colleges and universities in Hyderabad are run by either by state government, central government or private individuals or agencies. Hyderabad Central University, Nalsar, NIPER, Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, English and Foreign Languages University, Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University, are some of the other universities located in Hyderabad.

Universe and sample:

There are 146 degree colleges offering undergraduate courses [B.Sc., B.Com, and B.A] situated at Hyderabad. Teachers working in these colleges are taken as universe for the present study. Most of these colleges are having academic consultants whose tenure is limited either to one term or one academic year. Academic consultants are not eligible for faculty development programmes of the University Grants Commission. Various programmes meant for faculty development are available for aided college teachers. Hence, the present study has selected aided college teachers working at Hyderabad as a sub category of the universe. At the outset, a focused group interview is conducted in order to collect information as to the willingness to train oneself for internationalization of higher education. Out of 150 lecturers participated in this focused group interview fifty were selected as sample for the present study by using random sampling method.

Data for the present study is collected by using in-depth interview method with the help of a schedule. Information as to the socio-economic characteristics of the respondents, educational achievements, awareness of national and global career structures, research culture, working conditions, information as to the strategies adapted by the college in order to equip for internationalization is collected. Data collection is done during the months of march-may 2010.

The qualitative information on awareness and availability of national and global career structures, strategies for integrating the international dimension, professional development, needs post-doctoral research culture, refresher courses and working conditions was collected by using case study method by using in-depth interviews.

National and global career structures:

Kaulisch and Enders [2005, pp.131-32] note that faculty work is shaped by three overlapping sets of institutions: 1] the generic science system, and systems in each discipline which to a varying extent are cross-national, emphasize the autonomy and mobility of researchers, and foster competition based on scholarly merit and prestige; 2] rules about work, competition and careers, where academic work is embedded in national policy and cultural settings; and 3] the organizational operations of universities, which both reflect national and local traditions and are touched by common trends such as massification, growing expectations about social relevance and the nationally-parallel global transformations. A fourth element in the mix that might be of growing importance is the impact of internationalization and globalization on academic careers.

The present study finds that the available opportunities for the teaching faculty are based on all these four elements. Most of the respondents experienced interplay of all these elements in their work life. More than fifty per cent of the respondents felt that the massification of education is burdensome and acting as an obstacle for faculty improvement.

Faculty mobility has long been a positive professional norm though varying by nation and field [El-Khawas, 2002, pp.242-43] and also varying somewhat in motive. A small number of researchers have expertise and reputations that confer superior opportunities in many countries. However, most teaching faculty have primarily national careers and use cross-border experience to advance their position at home, traveling mostly at the doctoral and postdoctoral stages and for short visits. A third group consists of faculty with lesser opportunities at home compared to abroad, due to remuneration or conditions of work, the denial of national careers due to social or cultural closure, or an economic freeze on hiring. This group has less transformative potential than elite researchers.

Excellence in education will require improvement in infrastructure, well-crafted courses, e-learning materials, access to laboratories, computational facilities and above all well-trained and highly motivated teachers. When asked about the availability of resources and opportunities for research, 78 per cent of the respondents opined that there are many bottlenecks. In most of the colleges, e-learning, internet facilities are not available. Even their college libraries mostly will have books useful for the undergraduate students rather than useful for further research by the teaching faculty. Most of the respondents felt that they are not exposed to the pedagogical methods acceptable internationally. Hence, their awareness about the teaching methods is not much. At the same time, they were not trained in teaching-learning process relevant for internationalized educational system while doing their post-graduation or pre-doctoral/doctoral level.

Strategies for integrating the internal dimension:

There are many ways to describe the initiatives which are undertaken to internationalize an institution. They are often referred to as activities, components, procedures or strategies. In the process oriented approach to internationalization, emphasis is placed on the concept of enhancing and sustaining the international dimensions of research. Most of the colleges in general, autonomous colleges and colleges with potential for excellence are following the process oriented approach. Yet, the faculty is not ready to equip themselves for this internationalization. The reasons mentioned by the respondents include more work, fear of losing job, lengthy working hours, high aided-unaided teaching faculty ratio, low job satisfaction levels and lack of facilities at the institutional level.

Professional Development Needs

Faculty members, or academic staff, as they are called in many countries, constitute a critical ingredient influencing the quality and effectiveness of higher education institutions. Universities in the developing world cannot respond to external changes and pressures without the involvement of capable, committed, and knowledgeable faculty members. The challenge for many faculty members, however, is that they are being asked to fulfill tasks and assume roles for which they are not adequately prepared. Besides, there are not many training centers to well equip them. Academic staff colleges are providing refresher and orientation courses but these courses are attended by those whose promotions are linked with attending refresher courses.

Post-doctoral research culture

Unlike the advanced countries, where a large pool of post-doctoral research fellows carries out the bulk of high-quality research, there is a near total absence of a post-doctoral culture in India.79 per cent of the respondents expressed their willingness to pursue post-doctoral research but said that they are not able to do due to financial problems.

Although the number of women at post-graduate and doctoral levels in various universities is high, very few of them make sufficient advance in their careers for a variety of social reasons. Women teachers and teachers studied in vernacular medium felt that though they are interested their family responsibilities and problem of language and communication act as major challenges for them.

Conclusion:

Higher education in India has entered into a new phase with the invasion of foreign universities and increasing aspirations of Indian students. This has created a need to revive the pedagogical methods. But the question still remains, whether the teaching faculty are ready to accept these changes or not? It is found in the present study that the teachers are ready to accept the challenges of global teaching. The need of the hour is to equip Indian teachers than permitting the foreign universities to establish their campuses in India. This requires a appropriate teacher education which can address the issue of organizational learning.

Charles A. Peck, Chrysan Gallucci, Tine Sloan and Ann Lippincott [2009] illustrated some ways in which contemporary socio-cultural learning theory may be used as a lens for addressing the issues of organizational learning in teacher education. Using a theoretical framework developed by Harré [1984], they showed how processes of individual and collective learning led to changes in a teacher education program. Important innovations in program practice were generally found to have their sources in the creative work of individual faculty. However program level changes required negotiation of new ideas and practices within small groups of faculty, and with the larger collective of the program. The present study would like to conclude that the Harré model, and the socio-cultural learning theories from which it is derived, may offer a useful theoretical framework for interpreting complex social processes underlying organizational renewal, innovation, and change.

References:

El-Khawas, E. 2002 “Developing Academic Career in a Globalizing World”, in J.Enders and O. Fulton [ed.] Higher Education in a Gobalizing World: International Trends and Muual Observations, Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp.242-54

Charles A. Peck, Chrysan Gallucci, Tine Sloan and Ann Lippincott [2009] Organizational learning and program renewal in teacher education: A socio-cultural theory of learning, innovation and change, Educational Research Review Volume 4, Issue 1, 2009, Pages 16-25

Harré, R. (1984). Personal being: A theory for individual psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Open Source Software in Higher Education

The higher education sector is quite unlike other industries. It has its own processes and a different set of demands. Most commercial proprietary application vendors develop their applications focused on a wider domain spread across industries. This, academics complain, creates a distinct disconnect between software vendors and the end-users in academia.

To overcome these shortcomings, the education industry started looking to “open source” as an alternate model. Around a decade back, institutions started debating total cost of ownership in adopting an open source based community approach vis-à-vis proprietary applications, viability of open source based business models, sustainability and security issues.

The success of community developed open source software is quite well established. Linux and Apache are ample proof of its success. A similar trend, though not that widespread in its reach, can be traced to the development of community projects in education like the Moodle and Sakai.

Through the course of its formative years, the open source community based approach in education has developed several alternative models. Some of these models and schools of thought have thrived and been implemented successfully across a significant spectrum of the industry. Progress and success in open source projects like the Sakai, Moodle, Kuali, uPortal, Shibboleth, and many more are being closely watched by the industry.

Community Source Model

One school of thought believes that open source sharing is more a philosophical approach than a viable alternative. The adoption of open source in higher education seems to suggest otherwise. FLOSS (Free/Libre and Open Source Software) communities are thriving well in learning environments too.

The FLOSS model has been extensively used in initiatives like the MIT OpenCourseWare and Open Source Biology. Project Gutenberg, the Wikipedia, The Open Dictionary project are prime examples of how open source has been successfully adapted to education initiatives.

In a community source project, multiple institutions come together to partner in the project. All partners contribute financially as well as in employing human resources for the effort. In the early stages, the partnering institutions provide all design and development efforts and only in subsequent stages is the project opened to the broader community. This way, the initial support is secured and the institutions have a substantial influence in deciding how the application is modeled and designed.

The initial focus of community source projects is on collaboration between institutions. The focus in the crucial first stages is therefore to form a common economic outlook and an appropriate administrative framework rather than forming a community around a shared code. Most community based open source projects slowly migrate to open source in the later stages.

The Sakai project, for example, started as a joint effort between four institutions (Michigan, Indiana, MIT and Stanford). The initial agenda was to set up a framework of common goals that would produce appropriate software based on an agreed list of objectives. The scope for participation was later increased by forming the Sakai Educational Partners Program (SEPP), whereby other institutions can join and participate in the community for a small fee.

The Current Landscape

An education enterprise like any organization has its own needs ranging from resource planning to budgeting. Additionally, they have typical requirements like the need to integrate with financial aid programs of the government, multiple payroll cycles, and student information systems (SIS) that handle admissions, grades, transcripts, student records as well as billing. All these call for robust ERP systems. Until recently, colleges and universities mostly rely on either custom-developed systems that are more than 15 years old, or have transitioned to commercial products from vendors like Oracle, SAP, PeopleSoft or vendors like SunGard that are geared towards the higher education market.

Kuali Financials was borne due to the lack of open source solutions Enterprise applications in the higher education sector are comprised of a mix of some proprietary application vendors and some key open source community initiatives. PeopleSoft, Oracle, SunGard and Datatel are some key vendors that offer tightly integrated ERP packages for the education sector.

Recent consolidation in the industry, like the acquisition of PeopleSoft by Oracle and of WebCT, Angel, etc by Blackboard, has caused considerable unease in the education fraternity. The concern stems from the fear that the trend of consolidation would lead to the monopoly of a few key vendors. The plans of these vendors to offer tightly integrated systems heightens the fear that this will provide an unfair leverage to these vendors as it would extend the community’s dependence on them.

One area of concern about proprietary applications is a seeming disconnect between the industry and software application developers. Institutions also have strong reservations about the currently available administrative software and course management systems. The feeling is that applications provided by vendors such as SAP and PeopleSoft are adapted from other industries and does not work well for educational enterprises. Moreover, the proprietary nature of the applications implies that the source code is not available and customization efforts involve substantial costs.

In the context of such a wide breadth of requirements, open source can prove to be a viable alternative. In fact, these constraints provided the impetus for open source initiatives in higher education. Some of the success has helped provide a strong foundation to building an alternative support model for the education industry.

In the Sakai project, the participating institutions decided to integrate and synchronize their educational software into a pre-integrated collection of open source tools termed Collaborative Learning Environment (CLE). Sakai has active implementations running at multiple institutes including the University of Michigan and Indiana University.

In parallel, Sakai also established a set of activity based communities that have spawned an active cooperation between the industry and application vendors. The Sakai Educational Partners Program allows educational institutions to participate in the program for a small fee. Besides, there are the Sakai Commercial Affiliates, who offer fee-based services for installation, integration and support..

Kuali, on the other hand, mainly addresses aspects of educational administration. The Kuali Financial System (KFS) is the most prominent application. It handles administrative and operational tasks like general accounting, purchasing, salary and benefits, budgeting, asset management and grants. The system is designed around modules that enable it to be tweaked to work with existing commercial applications. For example, at Indiana University, Kuali applications work together with PeopleSoft’s HR and student system. The Kuali Foundation is a non-profit consortium of multiple universities and some hardware and software companies. The Kuali Commercial Affiliate program operates on similar lines like its Sakai counterpart. The community has been growing and now includes the University of California, Cornell, Michigan State University, San Joaquin Delta College (Calif.), and The University of Arizona.

Significantly, according to the 2008 Campus Computing Survey, around 13.8 percent of the survey participants have already identified an Open Source LMS – either Moodle or Sakai – as the campus standard LMS.

Besides these, several other projects offer SIS functionality. For example, openSIS manages student demographics, scheduling, attendance, grades, transcripts, and health records, and its parent company makes add-on modules to support additional features like disciplinary tracking, billing, food service, and bulk email/SMS messaging for emergency contact.

Other Key intiaitives are

JaSig community developing uPortal, and CAS (Central Authentication Services) two components serving as input to Kuali Rice.

Internet2 – A consortium led by universities working in partnership with industry and government to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies including products such as Shibboleth and Grouper

Open Source Curricula

As with any “open source” activity, open source curricula by its very definition is one that can be freely used, distributed and modified. A model like this would seemingly be antithetic to the concept of higher education as it strikes at the credibility of the education environment. Campus education is designed to operate as a structured learning methodology. The concept of community collaboration involving academics and students on the same platform brings a lot of unpredictability into the scenario

However, FLOSS communities (Free/Libre and Open Source Software) in education have proved to be quite successful. A key principle of this learning approach is its root in adapting it to the context of ones’ experience. With its stress on learners and their preferences, this learning approach focuses more on learning by collaboration, communication and sharing.

Significant initiatives include the Connexions Project at Rice University, the OpenCourseWare project at MIT and the social learning medium of Wikipedia.

The FLOSS approach in higher education has been operating in combination with traditional teacher centered approaches. The objectives of the FLOSS approach are not to replace traditional methods but to achieve synergies in combination and offer the learner an enhanced learning environment.

The ‘FLOSS-like education transfer report’ published in September 2008, as part of the FLOSSCOM project, notes that FLOSS communities can create effective learning environments. The study has also come up with three different approaches that could be combined effectively with traditional teaching approaches.

Economic Models of Open Source

One aspect that clearly marks the adoption of open source as a winner is the fact that in this scenario, the developers are most often also the users of the software. This removes the perceived disconnect between the developer community and the end-users unlike in the case of proprietary applications. However, this is less evident in the case of administrative applications like payroll or HR. In such cases, adoption of open source has to be a directed process.

Initiatives like the Kuali project have proved that open source can also build up sustainable models that provide adequate support mechanisms. In such models, there is active collaboration between the community that comprises not only developers and end-users, but also an extended support group comprising commercial vendors. These support groups are available to offer timely support to mission critical applications. The community approach also ensures that the code is not closed and that an active community of interest ensures that enhancements keep happening as necessitated.

Projects like uPortal have been developed with minimal resources but are deployed across hundreds of institutions. The community approach has proved sustainable as in the case of the Sakai project. In terms of funding, the Sakai project garnered an investment of $6.8 million over two years.

The viability of the open source, community based model stems not from the monetary or cost aspects but principally the adaptability that it offers. The debate over cost of ownership between commercially available proprietary software and open source applications is yet to be proved empirically. However, the fact that the code is open means it can be easily adapted to suit new requirements and does not involve significant investments in terms of customization or enhancements. This does make significant economic sense in the longer term.

The case for open source in higher education is nicely documented in a study by the Alliance for Higher Education Competitiveness. In a 2005 study report titled, ‘Will Open Source Software Become an Important Institutional Strategy in Higher Education?’ Rob Abel notes how open source is a “great fit for higher education”. The study, based on an analysis of open source projects in education, opines that the community-based approach is an interesting model that also helps reduce the inherent risks in adopting an open source approach.

As for the cost model, the study notes that while open source has helped generate cost savings in the range of 20 to 30 percent for the commercial sector, the same may not be entirely true in education. The community-based approach, the writer notes, with its associated participation fees, may prove only marginally beneficial in terms of costs. Institutions that have their own infrastructure and resources may however, benefit from substantially reduced costs from their open source initiatives.

The Future

Open source has proved to be adaptable and a reliable platform for collaboration and learning. In their quest for ideal application software to handle administrative, operational and education platforms, most CIOs are looking at interoperability, reliability and scalability of applications. Applications like the Sakai and Kuali have proved beyond doubt that open source applications offer great configurability.

Development communities and the support of commercial vendors, as in the case of Kuali and Sakai, fuel a greater rate of innovation. Moreover, the advantage that is offered by collaboration also provides an impetus to continued improvement of the system. Support systems and enhancements for future requirements are ensured.

On the question of how to approach or adopt open source as a model, the answer would depend on the needs, the infrastructure and the means available to an institution. The community development model has shown that costs can be broadly distributed amongst participants. Experience shows that universities and colleges can collaborate to produce open source software that caters to their needs in a way that is superior to some commercial products. The collaborative model enables educational institutions to pool their financial and technical resources. Moreover, a larger community ensures that the applications are tested in a variety of testing environments, thus aiding in building robust solutions.

In term of core academics, learning systems will evolve to accommodate formative assessments and evaluation outside the classroom. Many higher education institutions have taken the lead of MIT and are offering online course materials that are accessible by anyone, free of cost. It has been adopted at Yale, Notre Dame, Tufts and Stanford School of Engineering, to name a few. The United Nations has launched an initiative that would leverage social media technologies and ideas to offer higher education opportunities to people who would otherwise not be able to afford the costs.

Commercially, open source projects have taken their first steps in the marketplace. The model is evolving aided by some significant commercial vendor backing. For the community-based open source approach to prosper, substantial financial backing is an absolute necessity to prevent it from faltering and to avoid the pitfalls that arise form source code being easily modifiable and rebranded by a different vendor. From the commercial perspective, projects like Sakai and the Kuali Foundation are likely to thrive as they have substantial stakeholders from both the academic and the corporate world.

What could derail further adoption? There are several potential risk areas:

  • Lack of understanding of entry points for adoption
  • Lack of support to adopt the applications
  • Minimal staff to support the applications
  • Lack of training / documentation to train staff
  • A “runaway” project that consumes much press and develops a negative bias toward the project

Many of these risks may be mitigated though co-operative initiatives between the foundations developing the open source solutions and commercial affiliates looking to support the solutions – and develop complementation solutions. Some examples:

  • Further publicity through conventional, non-education related channels such as Google and industry-based sites such as edu1world
  • Furrther innovation and cooperation – whether through ‘summer of code’ collaborations; or community collaborations that will transform the current listservs to more accessible forums
  • Commercial affiliates offering training and webinars
  • Commercial affiliates offering ease of use entry points, such as pre-installed servers or virtual images that can be downloaded and used out of the box

In conclusion, open source initiatives in higher education have a long way to go before they enter the commercial mainstream in a significant fashion. However, with industry and academic collaboration, it has a great potential to change the higher education landscape in the longer term.