Did you know that the average spending on the maintenance of a University Web site is £60,375 (per annum)? This figure was announced by the press today. “Wow, that sounds cheap!” will be the response for those who know about the wide range of services provided across institutional Web sites, ranging from the important promotional and marketing aspects which are designed to attract new students and research income, disseminate information on the value of the work carried out within institutions to the public as well as support collaborative and communications activities within the institution and will partners across the UK and beyond.

But if, however, you read the headline “Universities spending millions on websites which students rate as inadequate” and spotted that this was published in the Daily Telegraph you will realise that a different spin has been given, with the article seeking to demonstrate inefficiencies in higher education in order to justify cuts.

This is clearly an article which has been written with a political agenda. But is also also true to say that it is not unexpected – indeed at the Mashed Library event in Liverpool a few month’s ago I mentioned to Tony Hirst that we should expect to see right-wing papers seeking to use the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) in order to gather information which can be used against the sector. And this has come to pass with the article announcing:

Using Freedom of Information legislation the Telegraph discovered eight examples of universities spending between £100,000 and £280,000 on one-off website redesigns, as much as five times higher than the average spending.

Of course a one-off Web site redesign will increase the annual expenditure; as pointed out by a spokesperson for Cranfield University “this was the University’s only major redesign of the website over the past 15 years and that the large one-off investment saved money in the longer run“. Indeed a failure to invest in a Web site redesign could lead a University open to criticisms for failing to respond to user needs for enhanced functionality; richer content; simpler interfaces and the range of other requirements which those involved in Web site management will be well-aware.

The Daily Telegraph article was published a few days after I facilitated a one-day workshop session on “Institutional Web Services: Evidence for Their Value” which was hosted at the University of Strathclyde. In the introduction I described how the workshop was part of a JISC-funded activity led by UKOLN which was seeking to develop “ways of gathering evidence which can demonstrate the impact of services and devise appropriate metrics to support such work“.The launch workshop explored questions of “How can we demonstrate the effectiveness and impact of institutional Web services? What metrics are relevant? What concerns may there be?

We are now seeing that a failure to gather evidence will leave Universities open to charges of inefficiencies. As I am currently attending the CETIS 2010 conference I haven’t the time to write any more on this topic. But I would welcome suggestions on how those involved in providing institutional Web site can demonstrate the value of the services they provide. Over to you.

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