One common form of sharing across different organisations is in contributing to the development of open and community source software and hence these models merit a brief mention in this resource.
Open source software generally applies a development method that encompasses the principles of transparency and peer review throughout. Most importantly however in defining whether the software product is open source or not is whether it is released under an Open Source Initiative (OSI) certified licence. In order to be certified in this way the software must meet certain criteria including: free redistribution of the software, access to the source code, and the permission to allow modifications to the software and derived works that may be distributed under the same licensing conditions.
Software that is free of licensing costs is not without associated costs for user organisations because it still requires hosting and support. Many organisations do however opt for open source products because they often apply open standards that makes them easier to integrate with other applications, because they can meet the needs of particular communities very well and because they feel the money saved on licensing costs can provide greater benefit when invested in development and support activities. The CASCADE Project at the University of Oxford has produced a case study on the benefits and pitfalls of customising open source software.
One of the great open source success stories in the sector is the Moodle VLE now used by the majority of FE colleges and a significant proportion of universities (55% according to the 2010 UCISA Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for HE in the UK). The OSS Watch website has a case study on the development of Moodle. Other types of shared service have grown up around the product such as the ULCC (University of London Computer Centre) Moodle hosting service.
The terms open and community source are often used interchangeably although they do in fact represent quite different development models and approaches to sharing. The distinction is not made any easier by the fact that each open source product has its own ‘community’.
A community source model is one whereby a group of organisations form an agreement under which each contributes resources to the development of a product. These members or partners have the opportunity to influence the development of the product during its early stages although the code may later be made openly available. OSS Watch views community source development as a step on the way to true open source and argues that, as a software development method, it is inferior to a genuinely open approach (see their article on community source vs open source). It is nonetheless easy to see why, from an institutional management perspective, such an approach involving known partners and binding legal agreements has an appeal over a more fluid type of open source community.
That said, the community source development model has not really taken off in the UK and the best known examples in the sector come from the US. This may be partly due to past UK experiences with the MAC Initiative.
The Sakai Foundation has developed a learning management system that is used by some UK and European institutions.
The Kuali Foundation has developed a suite of corporate systems for higher education. As of 2011 all of the live implementations are US-based. The implementations are heavily weighted towards the financial system with some users of the research administration system, Kuali Coeus and the ESB, Kuali Rice but none of Kuali Student.
Kuali Coeus was evaluated for use in the UK as part of the RMAS Project (Research Management and Administration System) which found only a 30% fit with the UK user requirements, noting that
The disadvantages of progressing with this option come down to complexity, timescales and deliverables. The model requires that decisions on system functionality are agreed by ‘committee’ with only those institutions who are partners and are contributing financially are able to participate – this may not be a model that UK HEIs would find acceptable although clearly could be considered as a shared service.
The model nonetheless works in the US context and has resulted in some very satisfied users as evidenced in a series of Kuali Adopter Stories.
Quotes on Kuali from San Joaquin Delta College (a Community College in California):
"Our experience has been that while vendors would like, in theory, to accommodate our needs, we often are not a priority and we do not have a significant voice in the application development."
President Raul Rodriguez
"With Kuali, as opposed to a vendor solution, the investment we make in software is an investment in our own people. The individuals at our institution become the subject matter experts regarding the design and functionality of the software."
Matt Coombs, director of system development
"Unlike vended solutions, Kuali’s core functions are designed by individuals who understand the very specific needs of higher education, because they deal with these needs every single day. … When design decisions are made by individuals who do not function centrally within a higher education institution, incorrect assumptions are often made. Kuali is built by functional individuals with a functional perspective specific to higher education, and for that reason, it provides an excellent fit to our institution’s needs."
Claire Tyson, director of finance