Kuali Day

A hot mid-June day saw a group of us in Central London to learn more about Kuali. Sadly it is not a cute mammal with huge eyes, large hands and a long tail sitting in the Madagascan jungle awaiting a part in the next animated blockbuster. Rather it is a community source software portfolio, and its governing body, that has been largely developed by and for North American universities. But don’t run away with the idea of some folksy knitting circle of Java coding geeks. Behind their broad smiles, firm handshakes, and casual shirts these are serious businessmen and women with IT budgets that dwarf the income of some entire UK universities. And in the acronym strewn world of US HE ERP systems, where costs are more eye watering than the world onion chopping championships, Kuali is a potential game changer. So if this is what brought over 20 UK universities and 6 systems vendors together, what did we find out?

Kuali grew out of an original idea in a bar and has developed into a group of likeminded collaborators behind the software who contribute money and or resource. The resulting software systems can then be taken as open source by anyone or as community source by contributors. The latter gives, amongst other things, some level of joint support and a seat and voting rights at the controlling table. The portfolio itself has Kuali Rice, the underpinning software developers kit, which has a number of components including a logic engine, workflow tool and enterprise service bus; Kuali Finance the longest and most established product; Kuali HR; Kuali Coeus which handles research pre and post award; Kuali Library of which more later; and Kuali Student. Perhaps surprisingly for a portfolio of applications built for and by universities the student system is the latest development and is still incomplete. But there seems to be method in this madness. They have established the environment from a technical and governance standpoint and produced and adopted effective solutions before embarking on arguably the most contentious system of all. And interestingly a couple of South African institutions have now joined this particular party. This is good news from a UK view as their structures and programmes follow our models much more than the US, and they are generating a level of internationalisation from which we can benefit.

Interest was centred on the Library and Student systems, with SOAS arguing that the Kuali route was lower risk than the emerging cloud based systems from number of Library vendors. From a student perspective the prospect of developing our own functionality for such bodies as UCAS, HESA, and SLC is more or less daunting depending on where you start. Those with traditional system from external vendors found the prospect daunting whilst those with current in-house solutions the idea of one common approach was a significant attraction.

So where we left? On one hand this can be seen as the latest in a series of attempts to export a half-finished solution written in and for the US into the UK, a process that has been going on since Californians discovered there was more money in silicon than gold. On the other hand in a market that is short of choice and where a number of vendors are also looking to produce more student centric systems Kuali offers not just an alternative system but also an entirely different approach. So it is this latter view which is leading some UK universities, and potentially Jisc, to pursue Kuali more closely. The day was collaborative in itself with hosting by Birkbeck, organisation by Coventry, and contributions by SOAS, Jisc, Kuali and number of US institutions. And that international collaborative approach is arguably at the very heart of what universities do. Watch this space.

This blog post was contributed by Nathalie Czechowski, Coventry University

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