From its very inception and being a university of engineering and information technology, Khwaja Fareed University of Engineering & Information Technology (KFUEIT) is convinced that if it wants to achieve its lofty objectives it would require very strong Information & Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure. With this in view we at KFUEIT have perfected an ICT infrastructure design through which we can implement all sorts of information systems with ZERO cost for the software component by leveraging open source technologies. For the hardware and networking components we have implemented solutions with long life and low cost. Additionally, with a minimum number of support staff, the deployed IT infrastructure and services give KFUEIT a leading edge over all other universities in the region. Solutions that we have made operational at KFUEIT for the academia include the technologies of learning management, university management, project management, communication and collaboration, virtual private networking, thin client computing and multimedia services. At KFUEIT our focus is to facilitate the adoption of open source software and technologies in order to strengthen the technological base of the country and, at the same time, use the money thus saved for development of physical infrastructure.
The Information Pyramid shown in the figure below allows us to put ICT resources such as hardware and software in proper perspective with information and human resources at a university.
It is important to understand how economic considerations drive universities to produce knowledgeable individuals who are useful to the industry and business organizations for their growth and wealth generation. These knowledgeable individuals work in all sectors of the society by adding value to industrial and business processes. ICT at universities is therefore driven by universities’ need for good governance and for improving quality of their output.
We are living in the “Knowledge Age”. It is a crowded higher education field as there are already around 200 public and private sector universities in Pakistan. In this situation ICT can be the “game-changer”. Higher education has always had a symbiotic relationship with ICT. Most of the ICT developments like the computer and Internet have emanated from the universities. It is well known that ICT is also changing life styles and learning patterns – the universities have to be in harmony with this changing scenario. ICT solutions based on open source software can allow us to bridge the digital-divide between developed or prosperous societies and developing ones with meager economic resources like ours. We have not only to catch-up but rather to leap-frog ahead of the competition – ICT can allow us to do that. Hence a modern university has to be an “online”, “automated”, “paper-less” university.
The modern university system is a semester system which is based on national and international standards. Basically it offers a modular approach and fast paced approach to education. It is also very rigorous using continuous assessment paradigm. In the semester system each course can be considered as a COMMUNITY led by the TEACHER. A Learning Management System (LMS) helps to form this community and keeps it together. The LMS helps the community collaborate and communicate and also helps in maintaining transparency with respect to teachers and students. It is important to note that the LMS augments and empowers a teacher and does not aim to replace him/her. Furthermore, feedback obtained using online survey systems and communicating of its results to stakeholders concerned helps to stabilize the education system and helps improve quality.
ICT should help facilitate the student with registering for admission and courses at the universities. It should allow enrolled students to access resources available all over the world to enhance their learning. It should help them get course materials, assignments, tests and grades. It should allow them to interact with teaching staff and fellow students through online discussion forums. Students should be able to get financial information of dues as well as news about activities such as seminars and events at their department or the university. Students should also be able to use their laptops and smart-phones from anywhere on campus to get access to ICT services. It should also be possible to use all services from home or any other location through secure VPN connection. Students should be able to communicate and collaborate among themselves, as today learning is highly collaborative and social.
University faculty should be able to communicate with their students beyond the classroom. Faculty should be able to document their teaching efforts through availability of course materials online for everyone to see. They should be able to communicate and collaborate with their colleagues throughout the global academia. They should also be able to access research information repositories like the HEC Digital Library. The faculty should be able to use technology and tools to enhance their teaching effectiveness and job satisfaction. Finally, ICT should facilitate faculty to manage research and development projects using world-class project management system.
KFUEIT ICT infrastructure has been developed based on the cloud computing paradigm. Keeping in view the security of information and requirements of a teaching and research university both private as well as public clouds are leveraged. The private cloud consists of KFUEIT’s own Data Center and a well designed high performance campus network.
In a short period of less than a year already a significant ICT infrastructure has been built at KFUEIT. Below we briefly enumerate the ICT facilities being provided:
Campus Networking and IT Infrastructure installed
WiFi facility all over campus and in hostels
Video Conferencing System installed
Online University Admission Application facility available
Learning Management System (Moodle based)
Core Business Application for Academic and Student Records operational
E-rostrums and Multimedia Projectors for Smart Classrooms installed
DRS Internet Link installed and operationalized – 40 Mbps Internet and PRI for 30 phone lines
Facebook, Website and LinkedIn site active
Video Surveillance System installed (32 cameras and DVR)
VPN secure access to campus resources from remote locations
Directory Services with Single ID for all services/applications operationalized
VoIP based advance PBX installed
Mini Data Center established with Backup power support
Firewall operational to protect Campus
PERN installation in progress
Koha Library System operational
Biometric Attendance System operational
Campus ID Printing Solution with own Studio
Email facility for Students, Faculty and Staff
Online Surveys for End Semester Feedback with reports
Secure Linux based Desktop with Windows availability
Unfortunately, in the last decade many universities in Pakistan have spent tons of taxpayers’ money in purchasing commercial software for universities where open source alternatives were readily available at no cost. Our focus at KFUEIT is to facilitate the adoption of open source software and technologies to strengthen the technological base of the country and at the same time use the money thus saved for development of infrastructure in the universities. It is important here to point out that open source is viewed by experts as a viable business model. Open source business model is based on services alone. Services around software include implementation, customizations, training, documentation and support services. This is a fair and consumer friendly business model for software because software is heavily reuse oriented and incrementally developed. Software unlike physical products is infinitely replicable and duplication cost for software is infinitesimally small. Open source is free software in both senses of the word “free”. However, it is emphasized that open source software is free, but people implementing this software and providing services around it are not. Open source is also a better software engineering methodology. According to free software guru Linus Trovalds “given enough eye-balls, all bugs are shallow”.
ICT is a key enabling technology for universities. Open source based ICT appears to be the most suitable strategy for Pakistani universities keeping in view our economic conditions as a developing country. Careful integration of open source modules with bespoke/custom modules is the most promising approach to leverage technology. All university business processes must be automated to yield the desired benefits of ICT. It is vital to identify potential of emerging trends in ICT like MOOCs and avoid any pitfalls associated with them. Finally, there is no substitute for experts with “knowledge”. They are indispensable in order to ensure success of an ICT implementation.