Keeping the paths open

An interesting meeting yesterday with the Former Staff Association. I had been invited to give a short presentation on the aims of the Logins for Life project which I was happy to do. I was even happier that it presented an opportunity for me to hear the views of this group.

Access to University resources, particularly email, was important for most Kent veterans. There was hardly a dissenter to the view that hanging on to your email address beyond your time as a staff member or student had many benefits. For some it was about maintaining social links with former colleagues for others also about still ‘feeling part of the academic community’.

This was not the only item on the wish list though. Many academics continue their research or at very least maintain a great interest in their subjects throughout their lives. This group were frustrated that they no longer had access to relevant online journals. Understandably, there was less interest in this for non-academic ex-staff.

Particularly if there was likely to be a cost attached. And there’s the rub.

That is not to say that a reasonable charge for the use of University’s on-line services was thought to be un-acceptable. But people did not want to pay for services of no interest to them. So the discussion moved on to the possibility of a tiered system whereby a subscriber could opt in or out and the subscription price would vary accordingly. Suggested menu items were:

  • Email re-direct only service
  • Full email facility with storage
  • Access to online journals
  • Access to departmental research data
  • Help desk facilities

Setting up a potentially complex system like this would require re-negotiations of many licences and perhaps extra staff hours would be needed if help desk facilities were to be included. The ex-staff I spoke to were appreciative of the service they had received from IT and Help desk staff and would very much welcome the opportunity to have such a service available to them again – even if it had a cost. An interesting idea though very carefully worded SLA’s would be needed.

Handled well, a scheme like this could also raise our profile and enhance our reputation amongst an influential and well-respected section of the community.  Is there also potential here for a new income stream for Universities with the added bonus of a reliable contacts list for ex-members? Or do we risk tying up University resources addressing the needs of a group that are one step removed from our core customer group?

My opinion is that this feels good and adds balance to the work the project is doing looking at the needs of our users at the other end of their careers. Both groups are a valuable part of the wider University of Kent community.  Maybe not all those wishes are achievable but certainly worth exploring.  The devil as ever is in the detail.