Re-Engineering the Campus with Web and Related Technology for the Virtual University

Insights from my work in Europe analysed in the context of developments in the US - Part 2

by Prof. Paul Bacsich,
Sheffield Hallam University, UK

This is the second part of a two-part article based on a presentation given at FLISH97 at Sheffield Hallam University in 1997. It is a retrospective look at my approach to "re-engineering the campus" analysed in the light of my European experiences over the last 15 years and my studies of the North American situation. This final part describes what is happening at Sheffield Hallam University and then describes how to become an Internet University! (Read part 1 first)

What are we doing in Sheffield Hallam University?

In summary, we are developing an Electronic Campus [] oriented to postgraduate distance education, but (very importantly) also available to on-campus students, using at this point in time:

Across Europe

If I move out from my own campus to the current European situation in universities, what do I see? The picture is not very encouraging. Though progress is being made, in fact, in relative terms, the situation is much less encouraging than at the end of the EU Third Framework Telematics for Learning (DELTA) programme in 1995. The last two years have been either wasted years, or years of consolidation, depending on one’s point of view.

The highlights are:

A Key Issue - "Who’s in Charge?"

An issue which unites Europe and North America is "Who is in charge of re-engineering?" (or whatever pale shadow of that is in favour). Candidates include:

Usual Errors - in Europe and the United States

Apart from the problems of who is in charge of overall re-engineering, here is my list of the most common implementation mistakes that universities make when trying to re-invent themselves on the Internet. I am afraid that you will not find this list in the literature and you will not find references to actual sites with these problems, for obvious reasons of tact and discretion, such as being wanted to be invited back.

How to Become an Internet University

So given this catalogue of problems common in Europe, what lessons can I give about what a university should do in order to re-engineer its campus for the Internet. Here are my rules:


After having an overall plan, the time comes for an implementation roll-out. Few European universities are doing anything substantial, as on the scale of many US universities. Of those that are, the following styles of implementation can be found:


In this method, one builds on some existing unit and developments without making major changes. Often one focuses on an existing centre of research excellence or on the Computing Service or the Library. Another way of doing incremental work is to set up a Development Fund to which academics can bid. This has been done in some UK and Canadian universities. The results are usually unimpressive on a global scale but may give the illusion of progress internally. I do not recommend this model.

Internal big-bang with no reorganisation

This is the model which the Open University has taken. The Knowledge Media Institute (KMI) was set up, a large number of new staff (over 30) were appointed to KMI and other faculties, some new money was found; but the major spending units went on pretty much unchanged. It is likely that good research will come out of KMI - the intellectual talent there is impressive; it is less clear that good implementation will come out; but it was a matter of some hard debate whether that should or should not be in the mission.

Internal big-bang with reorganisation

I do not have a convincing example of this from universities in Europe. Perhaps that proves how far we still have to go.


Re-engineers are keen on outsourcing. Thus it is a natural idea to decide that the challenges of creating an Internet University are too great to be solved internally - then one calls in outside experts. To general surprise, these outside experts now exist. (I am excluding several famous commercial firms and consultancies coming from a non-educational background from my definition of "expert", as I have yet to be convinced that they understand much about higher education.)

One outside expert firm gaining prominence at present is RealEducation Inc., who have developed the Electronic Campus for CU-Online, the Internet campus of the University of Colorado


This is where universities band together in a group to implement together what they feel that they do not have the resources or talent to implement separately. The model is beloved by the EU and by national governments in Europe, including the UK, one suspects because it gives the appearance of activity and avoids making distinctions between institutions (such as who should run the national open university, a tricky issue in some Scandinavian countries).

There is little evidence that consortia have ever achieved any industrial-strength results, although from time to time under a charismatic and powerful head, they can become highly visible and achieve useful smaller-scale effects. (Examples include EADTU - the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities - in its heyday, and EuroPACE more recently.)

Joint venture

This is a neglected model. It should be pointed out that the UK Open University started as a joint venture with the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). Now that various telecoms companies and IT companies are getting interested in Internet-based education, we are likely to see more of these.


Hammer and Champy (1994)
Re-engineering the corporation.
The fount of wisdom in this area.

Bacsich and Mason (1995)
"Telematics for Distance Education in North America: Report of a Study Visit Summer 1995", KMI Tech Report KMI/EMRG/95/1.
See especially the report on George Washington University.

Bacsich (1996)
"The Future of Educational Television", KMI Tech Report KMI/EMRG/96/1.
Talk given at the launch of the Finnish Open University television service - see especially the concluding section.

Hammer and Stanton (1996)
The Reengineering Revolution Handbook, Harper Collins.
See especially Chapter 16, "Beyond the Bottom Line: Reengineering in Mission-Driven Organisations"; but their university example is not convincing.

Hypertext Reference:
Sheffield Hallam University Virtual Campus Home Page


Paul Bacsich (C) 1997. A version of this paper was first created for the Social Sciences Research Centre of Hong Kong University.

The author assigns to educational and non-profit institutions (including Sheffield Hallam University, Hong Kong University and LearnTel) a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced.

For further information Paul Bacsich can be contacted at:

Sheffield Hallam University
School of Computing and Management Sciences
City Campus, Pond Street,
Sheffield, United Kingdom S1 8HD

Tel: +44 0114 2253795
Fax: +44 0114 225 3161

Issue 16&17 "Learning in a Global Information Society" 25 March 1998