[Linux-aus] Grant Application: Promotion of FOSS in undergraduate Computer Science, Information Technology and Software Engineering degrees at the University of Newcastle

Kathy Reid kathy at kathyreid.id.au
Tue Apr 4 18:19:38 AEST 2017

Taking my 'Pres' hat off for a moment, I'd like to offer some insights
from a University perspective, having spent 16 years working in one.

There are many demands on a lecturer's time; firstly being split between
teaching and research often means that there is precious little time to
update course material. If a proprietary company such as Cisco or
Microsoft makes this easier by providing teaching materials, or indeed,
entire syllabi, then this save precious time. Add on incentives, or
bonuses, or 'industry partnerships', and partnering with a proprietary
company is understandably attractive for a time-poor, resource-thin

Secondly, it's hard to teach something if you're not fluent in it
yourself - and again, the proprietary companies have an edge. Ensure the
students know Platform X, rather than (Open Source) Platform Y, and they
in time become professionals and teachers themselves. But where does one
find the time to upskill? Particularly if the documentation or training
that accompanies open source products is not as polished as their
proprietary counterparts.

Thirdly, there is much talk in Universities of 'aligning and partnering
with industry' - there are of course legitimate reasons underpinning
this - such as the need to ensure graduates have the skills that future
employers need, and aligning skills and attributes acquired at
university to the needs of the workforce. How does one 'align and
partner' with open source when the landscape is so fragmented?

At a sector level, instead of collaborating, many of the Universities
are forced to compete in an era of 'student driven demand' - dollars go
where the students go. IT enrolments are waning across the board, for
many reasons, making offering IT courses unattractive to Universities -
because the student-driven demand system means if students don't want to
study IT, IT is not generating revenue for the University. This is why
teaching materials are often held under restrictive copyrights; to
release them is essentially giving them to the competition. It's not
right - I know - but it's a response to the structure that's in place.

So, while I haven't advocated a position either for or against this
grant (it would be inappropriate for me to do so), I hope this is a 
useful backgrounder on some of the issues of open source teaching in

Kind regards,

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