UNE's student information system goes live

Some 18,000 students now have online access to their enrolment details with their university's move away from a manual processing system.

The University of New England (Armidale, NSW) which rolled out its student information system, or Unesis, took a different approach to software procurement when the decision was made to replace its existing decade-old system, deputy project manager Brian Cameron said.

"The existing system was developed in the US and not customized for things like government reporting requirements," Cameron said.

"We had developed a lot of home-grown add-ons and it was becoming expensive to maintain so we revisited the market."

Two vendors, successful in the shortlisting process, were invited for a six-month on-site pilot to prove their solutions' suitability to UNE's needs.

Unesis's business manager Trevor Edgar said the drawback with traditional tender programs is that the vendors would be familiar with the alternative product and then try to match functionality required by the user.

"Neither got to see the other, but we knew the gaps when we finalized the one," Edgar said. "It was a greater up-front cost but we ended up with a tight, fixed-priced contract."

The locally developed Callista student records system was chosen and runs with an Oracle database and application server on a HP Alpha server with 32GB of memory.

Although reluctant to release the financial details of the new system, Unesis' change manager Anthony Rologas said a qualitative ROI for the project is apparent because Callista is an Australian product with a substantial customer and support base.

"Therefore there is more scope for collaborative development ventures with other universities, reduced costs associated with meeting government compliance requirements, and lower unit cost on service," Rologas said.

"More system-based data validation checks, which frees up staff for customer service and other value-added services, and because it is an Australian system less local development is needed making it easier to upgrade."

Rologas also cited the system's Web capability, which should promote student self-service and free staff to work on more value-adding activities, as a key ROI factor.

After a significant data migration project more than four million student records were inserted into Callista with 170,000 course records and 1.3 million unit enrolments.

Cameron said with Unesis in place its functionality will now be extended to include self-service features like change of addresses and course grade notification.

"Unesis' underlying principal was to maintain as 'vanilla' a system as possible," Cameron said.

"We had to develop a few areas including the interface and distance education but there was little custom development and no change to the core product."

Unesis is designed solely for students but it does interface with existing applications, such as that for timetables.

"We're at the leading edge because of the higher education information management system (HEIMS) introduced by the government," Cameron said. "Changes to HECS and commonwealth assisted students was not known two years ago."

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