For some time now, I have been advocating that universities should create more free and open source solutions to fill the gaps needed within the education sector itself. Every year, thousands of computer science and engineering students in the UK alone rack their brains looking for undergraduate final year projects. Most of these will be isolated standalone demonstrations of skill that will never be seen again or used for any other purpose.
Too rarely do we encourage students to contribute to an existing major software project instead. Most often that will most practically be a FOSS project. There are several reasons why we do not, and probably the most significant is that there is still a large number of staff members in education that haven’t the faintest clue about the FOSS world, and so many students are left unenlightened too. Another problem that is often cited is the difficulty in unentangling the contribution made by the student as an individual. However, with most source control systems it is trivial to extract this information and this could easily be made a requirement of the project.
So I was very interested when a friend referred me to a letter in the times expressing very similar opinions about major public sector projects. I agree completely, there is a major untapped resource out there in staff and students, which would gain real life experience in enterprise projects. As the letter’s author suggests, the culture of pride in software (especially in free software) would help improve quality and education the public in the value of free software solutions.