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 gives 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 network, 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 less 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. 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”. For higher education, 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 close relationship with ICT. Most of the ICT developments like the computer and internet have invented 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 little 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” and “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 empowers a teacher and does not aim to replace him/her. Furthermore, feedback obtained using online survey systems, helps to stabilize the education system and helps improve quality.
ICT facilitates students for admission, course registration and results at universities. It allows students to access resources available all over the world to enhance their learning. It helps them to get course materials, assignments, tests and grades. It allows them to interact with teaching staff and fellow students, through online discussion forums. Students should be able to get information about fee structure, news and events. Students should also be able to access internet and other service all over the campus. 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.
The 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.
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, a significant ICT infrastructure, has been built at KFUEIT. ICT is providing following facilites:
Campus Networking and IT Infrastructure.
WiFi facility all over campus and in hostels.
Video conferencing system.
Learning Management System (Moodle based).
Core Business Application for academic records management.
E-rostrums and multimedia projectors for smart classrooms.
DRS Internet Link i – 40 Mbps Internet and PRI for 30 phone lines.
University website, Facebook page and LinkedIn page.
Video Surveillance System (32 cameras and DVR).
VPN for secure data access from remote locations.
VoIP based PBX installed.
Mini data center.
Firewall for data protection.
Instalation of PERN is in progress.
Koha library system.
Biometric attendance system.
Campus ID Printing.
Email facility for students, faculty and staff.
Online surveys for end-semester students feedback.
Linux based systems with windows operating system.
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 less 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 infinitely 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.