Student portal power

Qatar University's inaugural Unified Digital Campus project will help it achieve ambitious goals related to the State of Qatar's education reform initiative. Colin Edwards discovers some of the innovative plans the University has in store for its students.

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By  Colin Edwards Published  September 30, 2006

Qatar University is embarking on a massive project to transform its entire IT infrastructure to e-enable its student population. This includes the creation of a single portal through which every student interaction and information resource within the faculty can be accessed.

Although likely to take up to two years to roll-out in full, the initial e-services could go live early next year after a project definition.

According to Muhammad Javeed, director, IT Services, Qatar University, the final solution, which is envisioned in its Unified Digital Campus project, will see the single portal integrated with the university's back-end systems and will provide students with a single sign-on view to appropriate information such as billing, accommodation courses as well as e-services ranging from news to weather forecasts.

"It will provide anytime, anywhere access to student, faculty, and administrative information and services," he says.

Qatar University took a major step forward to realising its digital campus vision last month when it embarked on an ambitious project to replace its legacy student management system with a unified solution that includes web portal and content management modules from SunGard Higher Education.

This follows the deployment earlier this year of a full back-office business suite. It has implemented Oracle-e-Business comprising financial, supply chain, HR and enterprise asset management modules. Together, the two systems will form the backbone of the faculty's future expansion plans.

The SunGard will help to increase student participation by simplifying interactions and document and web content management.

"We're going to unify everything to provide a much more cohesive and collaborative experience for our students, from their admissions process through to graduation. To do this entails integrating the new SunGard with the Oracle suite and we realise that this is a major task," says Javeed.

However, once implemented, the ability to launch digital campus web sites and portals will help provide both increased and more personalised access to university services and resources. In addition, web content management will help students, academic and business units create, manage, deliver and archive content on the web site ensuring it is kept up to date, relevant and easily accessible.

"Very often today, web content is old and out of date. We want to change all that and give users the ability to contribute and manage the content themselves," says Javeed. This will help to accelerate the time to web for publishing though the solution has built-in workflows that help ensure the necessary approvals before publication.

Qatar University's president professor, Sheikha Abdulla Al-Misnad, says the University, which was founded in 1977, is a symbol of the confidence that exists in Qatar and the Gulf. "This confidence is a powerful force propelling our young people to learn and to contribute to the extraordinary development success in the region,” she says.

The tremendous growth the University is currently experiencing necessitated a focus on achieving high levels of competency and productivity to help it attain its institutional goals of supporting learning. This is what the Oracle suite is now helping to realise.

Now, its SunGard deployment will help the University be more innovative in its approach to meeting the increasing demands of Qatar's burgeoning knowledge economy in an Internet Age.

Speaking on the Oracle implementation, Dr. Saif Al Sowaidi, project manager for the Oracle e-Business Suite in Qatar University, says: "As a part of the reform and expansion plans, Qatar University wanted to promote transparency in its defined procedures and make information easily available to students, staff, faculty and visitors.

"The goal of the University was to increase efficiency in daily business processes and operations and to reduce costs. Oracle e-Business was a perfect fit for our requirements as it enabled the University to share unified information across the University so as to make smarter decisions with better information.

“The Oracle applications have also helped us increase internal efficiencies, simplify accounting processes, efficiently manage operations and improve the overall working environment."

The Oracle suite, which was deployed in March this year by systems integrator Hyperlink following less than nine months’ development work, is now fully bedded in, enabling the University's IT Services department to turn its attention to upgrading its student management system. This replaces a legacy system, which, because it was hard coded, was not flexible enough to meet the University's web-based ambitions, according to Javeed.

Consultants from SunGard Higher Education, which has more than 1,600 customers worldwide, are working with the University to help in the transition from the 10-year old student management legacy system, and to model, test and deploy the new curriculum rules that will allow students to access their own academic plan online and assess their progress towards their learning goals.

Extensive efforts are being made to create variety and choice for students, to drive a more flexible curriculum, and to re-plan academic provision tightly linked to the demands of the Qatari economy and external workforce needs.

The new solution will also help university administrators make academic and business processes more responsive to change.

Qatar University will be the first in the region to employ information access and business intelligence solutions from SunGard Higher Education to help give Qatar University leaders access to historical data for fast and reliable decision-making.

"Qatar is fast becoming known in international higher education, setting ambitious standards and positioning the region as a global leader in education delivery," comments Mathew Boice, general manager for SunGard Higher Education in the Middle East.

"The country is working to provide learners in Qatar with access to advanced learning resources and opportunities without having to travel abroad. This level of change has taken decades to achieve in many countries, but is happening in Qatar at unprecedented speed due to the vision, passion, and action of the country's and the University's leadership," he adds.

“We're going to unify everything to provide a much more cohesive and collaborative experience for our students, from admissions through to graduation.”

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