The headline in this week’s issue of the Times Higher Education is blunt: “The heat is on: official hints that cuts could rise to 35%“. And on the same day I read that article I was alerted to a comment published in response to the “When The Axe Man Cometh” post on the University Web Developers forum. This cited a book on “A University for the 21st Century” written by James Duderstadt, President Emeritus at the University of Michigan. Of particular interest was the comment that:
“Higher education is an industry ripe for the unbundling of activities. Universities will have to come to terms with what their true strengths are and how those strengths support their strategies – and then be willing to outsource needed capabilities in areas where they do not have a unique advantage.“
I was also interested to hear the implications for those working in Web teams:
“The core mission of a college or university is teaching (and in some cases research). Web development is not a core mission of a university and is ripe for outsourcing.” (my emphasis)
I was particularly struck by this comment (which, although published in 2000, does appear to be much more relevant today) as it echoed similar remarks which I made in my opening talk at the IWMW 2010 event. I reminded the 170+ participants (plus those watching the video stream) that the core mission for our Universities is teaching and learning together with, in many cases, research – the provision of Web services is an overhead which is used to support these core institutional activities. My intention in making these comments at the opening of the event was to suggest that there is a need for the Web management community to transform itself. My suggestion for such transformation, which I outlined in a post on ““When The Axe Man Cometh” – the Future of Institutional Web Teams” is for institutional Web teams to regard themselves as acting as part of a national institutional Web management community, and ensure that, by working in an open fashion, work being carried out within the institution was available to others in the sector. The rationale behind my suggestion is that by ensuring that much more sharing of ideas, experiences, successes and failures will reduce the amount of duplication of work being carried out across the sector, thus freeing time to implement innovative ideas which can help to enhance the quality of services Web teams provide to teaching, learning and research. But such approaches won’t help if we do see cuts of up to 30% being implemented over the next three years. On the assumption that the cuts won’t all fall on academic departments or other service departments (the library, IT services and central administration, for example) we would then have to face cuts across institutional Web teams. But will such cuts be implemented by outsourcing institutional Web development and support? And, if so, what will be the implications of such outsourcing? Any thoughts?