September 20, 2018

Kuali Foundation goes commercial

"No, you idiot, Kuali, not Koalas" 'But isn't kuali a Malaysian way of cooking?"

“No, you idiot, Kuali, not Koalas” ‘But isn’t kuali a Malaysian way of cooking?”

Straumsheim, C. (2014) Kuali Foundation: If you can’t beat them….., Inside Higher Education, August 25

While there are several providers of open source learning management systems for education, Kuali is the only provider of free, open source administrative software specifically built for higher education. In a blog post on August 22, it announced that while its software will still continue to be developed, open source and freely available, it will be creating a commercial company to provide for profit commercial services, such as hosting and contracted software development.

What is Kuali?

Kuali started as a consortium of mainly U.S. research universities which paid to join the Kuali Foundation, with the aim of developing free administrative software software systems designed specifically to meet the needs of higher education/post-secondary institutions.

What does Kuali do?

So far it has developed the following software systems:

How is it doing?

So far nearly 60 HE institutions are using Kuali products. However,  each product is at a different stage of development/usefulness. The financial system is the most advanced and most stabilized.

Why does it matter?

Although the days when Peoplesoft nearly bankrupted several major HE institutions are now long gone, commercial administrative systems such as Oracle and SAS are extremely expensive, designed primarily for a business rather than an educational environment, and as a consequence are often financially risky when it comes to adaptation and implementation within a higher education context. The development of administrative systems for higher education by higher education is a worthy goal, if it can be accomplished.

The ‘if’ though is still in some doubt. The financial system seems to be a success, the Student system is described as a ‘monster’ development project, and the HR system lacks enough investment. So Kuali as a whole is still very much a work in progress.

What are the changes? How is Kuali 2.0 different from the Kuali Foundation?

Kuali is now essentially a for-profit company, rather than a community consortium, although its governance is actually more complex than that. Universities and colleges paid to join the Foundation and contributed investment towards product development. The Foundation will continue to exist but members will not have votes or shares in the new company, although members can continue to contribute to projects that they want done. Other sources of revenue will come from charging for software as a service for cloud-based services.


I’m not in anyway involved with Kuali, so it is difficult to give an informed comment. I thought it was a good idea when it started, but making a consortium approach to sustainable software development and services work is a major challenge. It requires dedication, goodwill, and continuity from a large number of institutions. In these circumstances, any benefits for the participating organizations need to direct and substantive.

Changing it to a commercial organization is a major disruption to this model. In particular, even if the same people are involved in the investment in product development, governance and operation, it radically changes the culture of the organization. I’m not a governance expert, but I don’t understand why full members who invest substantially in product development don’t have shares or voting rights in the board.

I do hope it succeeds in its goal of providing reliable, sustainable open source solutions for administrative software for HE institutions. I wouldn’t bet my own money on it now, though.

For more on Kuali, see:

A student information system monopoly?

Open source software for research administration

Open source software for administrative systems


Conference: Kuali Open Source Admin Systems, Indianapolis, 2011

 Kuali Days 2011: Empowering the Community

Where: JW Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Indianapolis, IN, USA

When: 14-16 November, 2011

About: Kuali is a consortium of prestigious universities that is developing a range of open source administrative systems. Given the recent amalgamation of Datatel and Sungard Higher Education, attendance at this conference should be mandatory for administrators looking for alternatives to a commercial monopoly in this area.

Keynote speakers: 

Dr. Michael McRobbie, President of Indiana University – a strong supporter of the Kuali community.

Joanne M. DeStefano, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Cornell University – one of the founding leaders of the Kuali Foundation who recently completed a successful Kuali Financial System implementation at Cornell University.


To register go to Conference Registration

Open source software for research administration

I try not to use this site to promote particular products or services, but occasionally something that is likely to be of genuine interest to readers comes up – hence my previous posting on the Canadian launch of the iPad.

In a similar vein, the development of the Kuali consortium and its goal of developing open source solutions to replace commercial products in the administrative areas of higher education is an important and interesting development. I therefore pass on information I received from Moderas, a Kuali Coeus Commercial Affiliate dedicated to the Kuali Coeus® product for research administration:

As part of our ongoing effort to provide value and help our customers and peers we’re happy to announce that Moderas will be hosting a conference July 25-27th 2010 in Saratoga Springs New York catering to those who are planning to implement Kuali Coeus, and those who would like to learn more about what it has to offer their institution.

In case you haven’t heard, Kuali Coeus is an open source research administration application available from the Kuali Foundation ( Kuali is just coming off their recent success with the Kuali Financial System designed to replace financial applications like PeopleSoft® and Oracle® in institutions large and small. Kuali Coeus is their ground breaking, free application, capable of supporting the pre and post award functionality of your office of sponsored research.

We hope you can join us for in depth sessions on Kuali Coeus provided by staff from Indiana University, the University of Arizona, Johns Hopkins, and more. Come  take advantage of a great opportunity to network with your colleagues during track season in beautiful Saratoga Springs New York and learn more about an exciting new product developed by researchers for researchers. Below is a list of the sessions currently on the agenda.

* Plenary on open source software in higher education
* Overview of the Kuali Coeus effort
* Preparing for an eRA implementation
* Tips for managing your eRA implementation
* Integrating funding opportunities with Kuali Coeus
* Institute Proposal / Proposal Log
* Proposal Development
* Budget Development
* Proposal and Budget work flow
* Pre-award Q&A
* Technical overview of the Kuali Coeus application
* Implementers technical
* Implementers functional
* Setting up sandboxes, test, and production environments
* Data warehousing and reporting
* Support and maintenance, post implementation
* The future of Kuali Coeus

Please visit for more details, visit to register, or call us at (518) 698.2446 for more information.

For more information on Kuali, go to:

A personal view of e-learning at the University of British Columbia

The Irving K. Barber Learning Centre (home of OLT)

It’s now seven years since I resigned as Director of Distance Education and Technology at UBC, and my motto has always been ‘Never look back.’ However, two things came together to bring me back to UBC last week with a ‘formal’ invitation for the first time since I left (I have of course been in informal, regular contact with former colleagues still working at UBC).

Teaching business studies

I had been invited to give a lunch-time presentation to about 50 faculty in the Sauder School of Business, entitled ‘Rising to the Top: Why Business Teaching Must Change’. (I was going to call it: ‘If university teaching was a business, it would have gone bankrupt long ago’, but I thought that might be too provocative.)

Instead I concentrated on changes in the demographics of Canadian post-secondary education students, in technology, and in desired learning outcomes (more emphasis on business skills and competencies), how the teaching of these skills needed to be embedded within the teaching of content, and how courses could be designed using web 2.0 technology to teach such skills, encourage learner-generated content, and provide greater flexibility for the changing market of learners. There were excellent questions from and discussion with the faculty. A copy of the presentation can be downloaded as a pdf file from here.

The UBC e-learning Open House 2010

Visitors to the Open House

On the same afternoon, about an hour later, the UBC e-learning Open House 2010 began, to which I had also been invited. This is a ‘fair’ of posters on different e-learning projects that have been started or have been active during 2009. There was a total of 25 different exhibits. I didn’t have time to visit them all, but here are some of those of most interest to me:

Doing research online: Online Master in Rehabilitation Science. This was a project on which I had been working with the department to develop just before I left. I was delighted to learn that the whole master program is now fully online, has 57 students from all over North America, and is self-funded from tuition fees (following a business model I had suggested). I was very pleased to meet again the two ‘champions’ of this program, Sue Stanton and Mary Clark, and to learn that they have developed a fully online way of supporting students conducting a research project online as a requirement of the master’s program, and how students defend their research online.

Using video in online teaching: Master of Social Work. This was another project I had been working on, but it was at a more tentative stage than Rehab Sciences when I left. The Master of Social Work is a mix of face-to-face courses and online courses. Professor Mary Russell and her colleagues, working with UBC’s Office of Learning Technologies, have developed a series of video clips on the dynamics of family violence which are incorporated into the lessons for online student discussions and assignments.

Using audio and video in online courses: Faculty of Education Some of you will be familiar with Natasha Boskic, who provides invaluable material for this web site on educational games and virtual worlds. She and colleagues in the Faculty of Education have developed a variety of ways to incorporate audio and video into their online courses. As Natasha pointed out, recent innovations in telecommunications technologies have lowered equipment and transmission costs, enabling audio and video to be easily integrated into the curriculum.

Open content:Faculty of Land and Wood Systems Dr. Les Lavkulich  and colleagues from the faculty, with Chris Crowley from the Office of Learning Technologies, have developed a really neat online teaching tool on Land Use Impacts, that includes text, graphics and video clips. Although it is used as part of two courses on sustainable soil management, it is also available to the public at: This is an excellent example of well-designed open content that was also developed to support courses.

Designing effective learning in distance education: Office of Learning Technology. This year will be the 60th anniversary of distance education at UBC (more on this in a later blog). Several former colleagues, under the leadership of Jeff Miller, have worked with the faculties to develop over 125 fully online undergraduate and graduate courses. There are now almost 1,000 FTEs (about 10,000 course enrolments) in distance education courses, and this year enrolments grew by 20% compared with last year. OLT uses a variety of designs resulting in high quality, effective interactive online learning environments.

Open content: Preserving student scholarship: UBC Library This is another really interesting project led by Hilde Colenbrander and Julia Thompson. Using a Teaching and Learning Enhancement grant, they have employed a graduate student to track down non-thesis student online content and to educate students about copyright, scholarly publishing and open access. Students can showcase their work via UBC-authenticated e-portfolios, blogs, social networking sites and resumes and the content will be preserved by the Library in perpetuity.

Hilde Colenbrander (left) and colleagueHilde Colenbrander (left) and colleague

I did not have time (and there isn’t space) to go into the other 19 projects. However, there is likely to be a more comprehensive and official report later in the next UBC e-Strategy Newsletter.

Gossip and speculation

Now we come to the interesting bit. Here is some of the gossip I picked up.

1. UBC is likely to look at the re-design of large first year lecture classes, to improve the first year learning experience. (This is not really gossip, as it as highlighted in the last e-Strategy Newsletter). This project will be led by Ted Dodds, the Vice-Provost, Information Technology. As Ted Dodds himself put it:

How do we use technology more effectively to take over and perform some of the more mundane aspects of the teaching and learning process by using technology in creative ways, to free up people’s time for both the student and the instructor for more direct engagement? We don’t do that well right now….We’re saying that our first year experience in teaching and learning is broken at UBC, and we need to think creatively as to how we can make it better — and make it the best there is.

Brave words but also right on the money, from my perspective.

2. UBC is the home of WebCT. However, UBC is also a key partner in Kuali, an open source consortium developing administrative software. UBC’s licence renewal for WebCT Vista comes up shortly, and I would not be surprised if the university decides to move to an open source learning management system, such as Sakai, although I understand no decision has yet been made.

3. A new strategy for e-learning? UBC went through a comprehensive set of plans and reports around 2000 to encourage and strengthen the use of technology for teaching. Since then, it has created the central Office of Learning Technologies, which supports the LMS, provides instructional design and educational technology support for the faculties, and manages much of the distance education programs developed with faculties. Also the Faculty of Medicine has in partnership with the Universities of Victoria and Northern British Columbia developed a unique distributed learning undergraduate medical program that is doubling the number of doctors trained in BC. Several of the faculties have also set up their own learning technology support units. As we have seen, fully online distance education programs are expanding rapidly, and the university uses clickers, lecture capture and other classroom technologies. Being on the outside, there are many more e-learning developments within UBC that I don’t know about.

However, as with most universities, it has not moved away from either the traditional technology-enhanced classroom or fully online courses. There are problems at UBC with large lecture classes, overcrowding, students not being able to complete on time because courses are full, and often lack of interaction between undergraduate students and research professors. There is very little hybrid learning, where courses are designed with less face-to-face time and careful choice of what to do online and what to do face-to-face.

The move to re-design first year courses, and the growing confidence and expertise of the central and faculty learning technology groups, are signs that perhaps the university is ready for another way of innovation. However, this will still require leadership and a willingness from mainstream faculty to change.


I’ve never regretted my decision to leave UBC (I was coming up to mandatory retirement anyway) and to start a new career as a consultant. However, I left behind some very good colleagues and some interesting projects. It was good to re-connect with both, and I was a bit overwhelmed at the kind welcome I received.

UBC has been a leader in the use of technology in research universities. Faculty and staff created the .ca domain, WebCT, BCNet, and the distributed medical program. It has several fully online masters programs, a large number of online undergraduate courses, and has developed new business models for online programs aimed at lifelong learners.

It has over the last 10 years solidified its use of technology, though, rather than looking at institution-wide change in teaching and learning. With the right management, growing student numbers, a tight financial context, and experience and skill in using technology, we may see some really interesting developments at UBC over the next few years.

More developments in administrative systems

Parry, M. (2009) Software giants try boutique approach to tempt colleges Chronicle of Higher Education, November 29

An article on Sungard’s change of strategy regarding its Banner administrative software, providing more flexibility in its services. Not mentioned is whether this is the first response of commercial providers to the Kuali Project‘s move towards open source administrative software.