UBC’s Grüter-Andrew seeks a better email service for higher education

Chief Information Officers like University of British Columbia’s Oliver Grüter-Andrew are working together to find an efficient email service that allows B.C.’s higher education system focus on their core mandate: delivering quality education.

UBC aerial view

Higher ed CIOs have for decades faced the problem of email systems that take up increasing amounts of resources for little educational return. UBC is very much like other institutions; only a small percentage of students take advantage of the UBC-hosted mailbox option. Yet, says Grüter-Andrew, faculty and staff must use an email system, and each student is offered an email address, whether they use it or not.

Institutions would rather focus their technical resources and expertise to deliver robust education technology and reliable student registration systems.

The 25 public post-secondary institutions in B.C. are working together to find a better way to provide email to faculty, staff, and students. One of the options being considered is for a member institution to host an email platform and provide access. UBC is considering using their large infrastructure to provide email hosting services to other post-secondary institutions.

The Globe and Mail recently reported that UBC was creating their own cloud-based system. “To be clear, we are not putting anything into the cloud,” said Grüter-Andrew. “We have implemented a system where student, faculty and staff emails are hosted at UBC, on our servers, on our campuses.”

While some institutions in B.C. and in Canada have turned to cloud-based services like Microsoft’s Live@Edu or Google Apps, the data is stored on servers outside Canada.

UBC’s project, delivered through BCNET, will help institutions save time, money, and the large investment in human resources required to manage and maintain their systems. At the same time, institutions will keep their autonomy and store the data in Canada.

This is important because B.C.’s privacy legislation, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act of BC, (FIPPA) states that a public body must ensure that the personal information in its custody or under its control is stored only in Canada and accessed only in Canada, unless the organization has consent from each user.

The challenge is, personally identifiable information such as student grades, a staff member’s vacation schedule, or the fact that a student is even registered at an institution, can all be easily embedded and shared via email.

(The FIPPA has been such an important consideration for post-secondary institutions, BCcampus published a background paper in 2011 called Privacy and Cloud-Based Educational Technology In British Columbia that further explores what is, and what is not aligned with B.C.’s privacy legislation.)

Through BCNET, UBC and other institutions are working through a number of challenges around security, privacy, set-up, configuration, and licensing of hosted email services. They hope to be in a position to host email for interested B.C. institutions sometime in 2014.

Notable Quotes

“The issue is not sending personally identifiable information via email, the issue is where the email is stored.” Oliver Grüter-Andrew

“To be clear, we are not putting anything into the cloud. We have implemented a system where student, faculty and staff emails are hosted at UBC, on our servers, on our campuses.” Oliver Grüter-Andrew

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UBC campus aerial photo by justiceatlast, used under Creative Commons license.