Open source solution?

The final presentation pf the EUNIS conference came from Jennifer Foutty, the Executive Director of the Kuali Foundation. Kuali is a community of universities, colleges, businesses, and other organizations that have partnered to build and sustain open-source administrative software for higher education, by higher education.

Kuali have a number of applications already in existence. Finance was the first to be developed and is in use in four institutions. An application for research administration is being developed by a partnership of eight institutions with the third production release scheduled for 2011. The student administration application is still at the pre-release stage. I was not surprised at the length of time that it takes for these products to move from inception through to production release. Foutty produced a number of charts which suggested that three years is not uncommon. What I was surprised at was the relatively low level of adoption at this point in time. There is extended use (but no figures given) of the RICE application suite of middleware applications which may be used for identify management, systems integration, workflow and the service bus but other than that the only use of the suite of applications appeared to be the four institutions running the Finance offering.

It could be just a matter of time. The development process has been long and I suspect that institutions in the US may well be as cautious as those in the UK when it comes to implementing early releases of software. Certainly Foutty quoted a study which showed that the costs of implementation the Finance application in institutions were significantly lower than commercial alternatives which should provide incentive to those looking to change. And presumably the total cost of ownership will be significantly cheaper than a commercial offering.

The Kuali community is largely North America centric which perhaps limits the adoption of the resulting software elsewhere. The benefit of implementing a generic student records system may well be lost if individual institutions then have to develop add ons to meet local needs such as linkages with statistics agencies, admissions services etc. However, Foutty was very receptive to support gap analyses to identify the areas where other countries have local requirements and implied that such developments could be made under the overall Kuali umbrella.

So what of the future? I think it is too early to judge. Over the coming years I would expect adoption of Kuali products to spread in North America, not least to more members of the community (currently some 45 universities). Beyond that depends on both the success of those implementations in the US and the ease with which either the standard Kuali applications can fit with other national education systems or local variations can be produced. If Kuali is to be a global success then there needs to be rather more of the former than the latter. Otherwise it seems to me that the sustainability of the product would come into question.

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