Higher Education: Facing the ‘New Normal’
The Value of the Apereo Foundation. A White Paper.
Introduction: About Apereo
The Apereo Foundation is a vibrant and value-driven membership organization, committed to open software and open innovation in the service of higher education. Apereo member institutions and commercial partners serve higher education on five continents. The Apereo community are realists: we expect higher education to continue to make use of a “mixed economy” of open and proprietary software, infrastructure and services for the foreseeable future, but the default should always be to consider open first.
‘Facing the ‘New Normal’ provides a comprehensive summary of the value of open source software for higher education, and the case for an independent entity to steward such software. The document is a substantive update of ‘The Value of a Common Foundation’ (PDF) published prior to Apereo’s formation in 2012 and updated in 2014.
‘Facing the ‘New Normal’ is designed to be read as a whole, but is structured in such a way that its component parts can be used together or separately. ‘The Value of Apereo’ is above all a practical document which is intended to be used in advocacy for open source in education. Please treat it as a living document. If you have suggestions, contributions, or your own open source success stories to add, please mail them to ed[at]apereo[dot]org, or use the Apereo “open” discussion list. You can find details of how to join the list at http://bit.ly/apereolists
A PDF version of this document is available.
Section 1. Framing the Issues
Section 2. The Value of Open Source Software
Section 3. The Value of Open Source Software in Education
Section 4. The Value of Apereo
Section 5. Apereo Software Communities
Section 6. Incubation: Growing Sustainable Solutions for Education
Section 7. Regional and National Partnerships
Challenges: Framing the Issues
The COVID-19 Pandemic has sharply challenged traditional higher education institutions to move their offerings wholly, or very significantly, online. In what is widely perceived as an existential crisis for higher education as a whole, uncertainty has become the new normal. For higher education information technology, that general uncertainty is compounded by the specific nature of widely-used commercial-proprietary software. Will the “sweetheart licensing deals” offered by proprietary vendors early in the pandemic be maintained? How long for? How will this impact costs and capability to innovate to meet new challenges? With technology now absolutely central to the existence of higher education institutions, can we accept a future where innovation is constrained to proprietary licensed software that is effectively invisible to us, and subject to vendor-provided modification only? Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic remain, naturally, the most visible and almost all-consuming focus of attention in higher education. That does not mean other challenges have disappeared or been reduced. Indeed, early signs indicate that the pandemic is acting to compound those challenges. Open source software can help institutions meet those challenges.
The Value of Open Source Software
The last twenty years have seen open source software move from the periphery to the mainstream of the global information technology landscape. Thousands of open source projects exist. Some serve relatively small groups of individuals. Others support the activities of organizations operating at significant scale, or underpin web-delivered services for millions of users. Governments increasingly advocate or mandate the consideration or use of open source software in a variety of contexts within the public sector. The ‘Public Money: Public Code campaign has made striking progress at a municipal level in Europe. In higher education itself, many funders mandate open licenses. In the private sector, open source software has grown to underpin the activity of thousands of businesses around the world, including those as diverse as the London Stock Exchange and Netflix.
The Value of Open-Source Software in Education
Higher education faces an increased and increasing series of financial, policy and structural challenges. These of course operate against the backdrop of the COVID-19 Pandemic and global threats to the environment. All the signs are that we are at a point where the sector is becoming more reliant on software to deliver its mission. Standard, closed and proprietary software is often a poor fit for the academic enterprise. It frequently does not serve often unique processes supporting institutions. Critically, it may act to stifle innovation at precisely the economic and educational inflexion points where innovation is most required.
The Value of Apereo
The Apereo Foundation provides a framework for the development of open source software in the service of higher education. Apereo provides a shared space for higher education institutions to identify objectives, connect with other institutions and work to secure the resources required for the realization of common solutions. A key aspect of this aggregation of effort is the reduction of friction associated with collaboration.
Apereo Software Communities
Apereo provides an enabling framework for open source software communities, rather than seeking to direct and micro-manage them. Projects are encouraged to learn from the experience of others, and consider the potential for developing paths to sustainability that do not rely solely on a single organizational or resourcing model (such as cash or other direct resource contribution) throughout their lifecycle.
Incubation: Growing Sustainable Solutions for Education
An incubation process plays a significant part in the formative steps on the path from software innovation towards sustainability. It supports a critical part of the software and community lifecycle, bringing to bear the experience of those who have travelled the path before – successfully or unsuccessfully – for the benefit of new initiatives.
Regional and National Partnerships
As part of its commitment to diversity, Apereo was founded on the principle that there is not a single, universal organizational or development path appropriate to all open source software initiatives serving education. These will vary by geographical, cultural or other contexts, or at different points in the development lifecycle. International collaboration is possible and practical, but requires recognition and respect for diversity. It is essential that Apereo develops and maintains partnerships of reciprocal benefit and understanding. Our partnership with the LAMP and ESUP-Portail Consortia are exemplars of how we intend to progress this agenda.
The initial document, published in April 2012 The Value of a Common Foundation: The Case for Apereo 1.0 (English PDF)