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Free University’s not so free knowledge

The words free (as in freedom. Ed.) and open are quite commonly associated with academia and education: free thought, open access to knowledge and such like. Indeed, these concepts are actually embodied in the names of some academic institutions, such as the UK’s Open University and Germany’s Free University of Berlin.

However, there are signs that the commitment of some universities to the concepts of freedom and openness are now crumbling.

Seal of Free University of Berlin
Free University of Berlin. Ditching freedom for proprietary software
According to a report in Austria’s Der Standard yesterday, the Free University of Berlin wants to make the content of lectures available online. However, the fact that the university has evidently chosen Apple as its exclusive partner for this is now leading to criticism. Apple’s iTunes software is required for access; this is available for Mac and Windows, but not for Linux.

With iTunes U Apple is offering a learning materials platform which is used by many training institutions. The Free University of Berlin says it also wants “to arrange an official appearance on iTunes U like many other German and international universities have already done”. However, from an internal letter it emerges that lecturers are being urged “to refrain from using other external platforms for the distribution of recorded courses and audiovisual materials.”

“Present of data” to Apple

This exclusive deal is being criticised internally. Hannes Hauswedell of the Bioinformatics Faculty that in principal any project to make knowledge available is welcome. “However, what the University’s governing body is planning does not appear to be universal access at all but rather a present of data to a major company.” Ingrid Pahlem-Brandt, the University’s data protection officer, sees it as “problematic in terms of the data protection law” if content were to be distributed exclusively via iTunes. It would not be obviously what would happen to the data when retrieving videos.

Besides internal critics, the Free University’s moved is also being criticised by outsiders. The Free Software Foundation Europe is denouncing the fact that “a publicly funded university is only making its knowledge available to outsiders if those outsiders are using a certain software package from a certain manufacturer.”

The message from openistas to the Free University is clear: your work is not good enough; please see us after class! 🙂