28 April 2005

South Africa: UWC in R10m Open Source Project

Cape Town — The University of the Western Cape (UWC) will commit R10 million over three years to the development of a student enrolment management system (SEMS) based on free software.

The university believes this model of development using open source software - which is software open to modification - will become the norm in future.

Work on the system is to begin immediately, and involves a strategic collaboration with industry and the African Virtual Open Initiatives and Resources (AVOIR) project, a collaboration of nine African universities.

"We believe the free software approach is the one that is best for UWC," says UWC rector Brian O'Connell. "It is our intention to produce a system that is usable by other African higher education institutions, some of which will eventually join with us in creating the generic components of the system. The collaborative free software approach is the most sustainable in the long-term."

Derek Keats, executive director of information and communication services who is leading the project, says the days of secret, in-house developed management software are gone, and the open source approach is a viable alternative to implementing proprietary software for this purpose.

According to IT director Madiny Darries, the SEMS project will leverage work already done in the AVOIR project by building on the software application framework that has been developed as the basis for an e-learning system.

"We will use this framework for all our software development at UWC so that we create integrated tools instead of isolated islands of proprietary software," Darries says.

The application framework and SEMS are developed in object-oriented PHP, using the model-view-controller design pattern and a front controller Web implementation. A proof of concept for the extensibility, scalability and stability of this approach has already been conducted using industrial-strength testing tools.

Institutions interested in collaborating with this project can contact Keats at dkeats@uwc.ac.za or (021) 959-2304. SEMS will use the AVOIR Web site for hosting and managing the collaborative development.

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