Sheffield University scales back student system after Oracle integration stumbles

£30m project uncertain amid cuts to academic departments

The UK's Sheffield University has abandoned the original design of a £30.4m project to update its student record management system after a vital integration with an Oracle corporate information platform stumbled.

The mission to introduce a new Student Lifecycle Project (SLP) dates back to 2014, when the university said it aimed to implement a "world-class" system designed to "fix fundamental technology problems that, if allowed to deteriorate further, expose the university to unpalatable risk," according to a report released via a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.

According to local newspaper reports, university staff had warned in the early days of the project that it was not possible to deliver the update under its original design.

Reports released under FoI legislation said the northern Russell Group institution had allocated £30.4m up to November 2021, and forecast a "worse-case scenario" total spend of £59.2m on the project, around three times the original budget, the Sheffield Star said.

A 2019 progress report said: "70 per cent of the original requirements agreed with the system supplier are expected to be delivered; although 30 per cent of the scope will remain undelivered, this does not pose a major risk as many of the requirements are no longer relevant or viable given changes in the external and internal operating environments."

It put the budget for the project at £19.3m.

In a statement to local media, the University of Sheffield said the project had not been cancelled. It had completed two parts of the programme and was on track to deliver a third before the end of the year.

"It has become clear that it will not be possible to integrate the student record management system 'SITS' with our current Corporate Information System (CIS) as initially planned, so we will need to deliver this work in a different way," a spokesperson said.

According to a procurement notice from 2017, the university selected software firm Tribal Group to provide a "Student System package".

"The project is focussed on developing a system which will have the potential to transform service provision, simplify processes, support new activities, provide improved reporting tools and deliver potential new features and functions, thus bringing multiple benefits for students and staff," the document said.

Tribal Group has been contacted for comment.

The university's CIS, which the SLP seems to have trouble integrating, appears to be based on an Oracle system, although it is unclear when this was introduced.

Meanwhile, the university's HR and finance system runs on SAP R/3, software first introduced to the market in 1992, according to an HR starter guide [PDF] and a university system guide, which uses the university system name uBase.

Sheffield University and College Union (UCU) said the SLP project had spiralled out of control with seemingly little governance oversight. "There have been widespread concerns expressed by staff since the inception of the SLP, which management actively disregarded, repeatedly assuring us that the project was on track, or under control. This has clearly not been the case."

As concerns were raised about money wasted on the project, the university was engaged in a programme of cuts that include the whole archaeology department.

The Register has contacted the university and UCU for further response and details. ®

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