THE UNIVERSITY OF EXETER currently pays less than £4.50 per student for ELE (Exeter Learning Environment), the portal via which its students access their coursework.
Exeposé has been told by the University that it pays “slightly under £80k per annum” for the portal hosted by the University of London Computer Centre (ULCC). Most students at the University currently pay at least £9,000 in tuition fees each academic year.
ELE costs have increased slightly in recent years following investment in additional file storage to support the growth in online courses. This combined with the acquisition of 24/7 support from The University of London Computer Centre has led to the current yearly costs of around £75,000 per annum. The University has stated that: “this is one of the student systems we make the most significant investment in annually”.
The University of London Computer Centre currently holds among its clients the University of York and the Royal Veterinary College of London, providing higher education support for both institutions. One senior developer supports ELE, with others providing cover, while a team from Education and Quality Enhancement also support it, instructing learning technologists in the Colleges.
Following investment in April 2012, ELE is available at all hours for students, with help from the Exeter IT Out of Hours 24/7 support service. The University has stated that since making these investments “the impact (in terms of time lost when ELE has been down) has been drastically reduced”.
The University also employ the MyExeter portal for students. The project started in 2006 with delivery in 2007, with the primary setup cost for the portal being staff costs. Existing continued costs are the maintenance of the IT infrastructure that sustains it and the cost of staff, which comprises of two senior developers who are supported by other colleagues. According to the University, during the last two years substantial investment has revised and upgraded the portal improving its reliability and resilience.
The University of Exeter’s expenditure on online learning for students can be said to be comparably lower than its rival universities. The University of Bath, for example, spends £126,000 per annum on staffing costs and technical support, as well as £10,000 per annum on servers for hosting the service. Bath has employed three full time staff to support the Moodle platform. Although the exact costs of hosting were unavailable, Durham University revealed in an FOI request that they had spent between £100,000-£200,000 on license renewal alone for its ‘Blackboard’ student service in 2010. Brunel University also estimates their costs for their own VLE, ‘Blackboard Learn’, to be £300,000, in a contract that expires in August 2015.
The University are currently in the process of completing a new MyExeter project, due for completion by September 2014. Another longer term ELE project is also underway. The Guild has been heavily involved in consultation on the new projects, with Guild President Hannah Barton recently visiting developers in London.
The Guild is always consulted on projects of this nature, with attendance of key project board meetings and one to one meetings with key staff. The MyExeter project is designed as a shift towards students being a central part of the project development, in an IT development that has not been seen previously.
A University spokesman said: “The University’s IT vision, and IT investment programme running over the current five years has a multi-million pound budget, including a £0.31 million investment in the student portal, to enable more people-to-people interaction and seamless access to services.
At Exeter the VLE is based on Moodle which is very different to Blackboard and is more cost-effective for us, representing better value for money and greater flexibility which is a good thing for our students. Many universities are now moving to Moodle”.
Alex Louch, VP Academic Affairs, said: “I’m very excited that students are co-leading on a project of such importance to the future of IT at the University, and I think this reflects the strong partnership that exists between the Students’ Guild and the University”.
Clara Plackett, a third year English student, said: “I’m glad that there is a new MyExeter project in the pipeline. MyExeter and ELE are currently generally consistent in themselves, but any improvements are always welcome”.