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Open source makes “substantial advance” in UK education

More than three-quarters of all UK colleges and universities consider open source options during IT procurement exercises, says a newly published report.

The survey, undertaken OSS Watch service, the open source software advisory service for universities, also found that use of Moodle, the open source course management system or virtual learning environment (VLE), has grown to 56% in under three years. With the Open University’s decision to adopt Moodle as its future VLE, open source penetration has made substantial progress in this high-profile sector.

However, while 77% of colleges and universities report that they regularly explore open source options in procurement exercises, only 25% of institutions report mention of “open source” in their institutional policies, suggesting an important discrepancy between policy and practice in this area.

The report also suggests that institutional engagement with open source software development remains a challenge too. Of those institutions deploying open source software, only 14% report knowing whether or not they submit patches and contribute to the ongoing development of open source software.

The report’s other findings include:

  • 68% now provide Mozilla Firefox on their desktop PCs;
  • there is no clear leader amongst Content Management Systems (CMS) with more than 29 different solutions being used by respondents;
  • cost continues to the principal driver in reasons for considering OSS.

The report was undertaken to assess the levels of use of open source software in further and higher education and its place in policy and decision-making. With the Government placing greater emphasis on open source software in public sector IT provision, OSS Watch is building on this profile to advise colleges and universities on the importance of including consideration of open source software in their IT strategies.

Randy Metcalfe, Manager of OSS Watch, said, “This survey shows that although open source use is on the rise, institutional engagement with the open source development community remains patchy. OSS Watch will redouble its efforts over the next two years in order to help colleges and universities work through the challenges of engagement, from contribution of code to open source business models.”

A copy of the report and executive summary is available from the OSS Watch website.