Institutional changes – 2000 and beyond – and their impact

This carries on “bits” from chapter 5 of the thesis. It’s a rough draft of a description of the institutional context within CQU from 2000 onwards. It’s brief and targeted mainly at the factors which impact on Webfuse development.

It needs more work and checking. If you have any suggestions, fire away.

Institutional changes

In mid-1996 CQU appointed a new Vice-Chancellor who was an advocate of a number of new initiatives (Gregor, Wassenaar et al. 2002) including the 1998 organisational restructure, the introduction of a four-term year and increasing emphasis on overseas, full-fee paying students. While all of these changes were introduced prior to 2000 each had on-going ramifications that were being dealt with by CQU management and staff. These ramifications in combination with a number of additional changes were part of the reason why the next CQU Vice-Chancellor described CQU as a “work in progress” and “a unique university” (Hancock 2002). However, the institution did retain the vision “to be a unified university, acknowledged universally as a leader in flexible teaching and learning” (Hancock 2002).

As described in chapter 4, by 1998 Webfuse was being used to support the online learning and teaching activities of the Faculty of Informatics and Communication (Infocom). While the organisational restructure that led to the creation of Infocom happened in 1998 it was not until 1999 that the foundation Dean of Infocom commenced work at CQU. The Dean saw various forces for change, including ICTs, enabling and requiring the development of a “‘glocal’ networked education paradigm” in order to provide a scaleable and globally competitive flexible model of educational delivery (Marshall 2001). The emergent development of this model underpinned Infocom’s Singapore online project (Marshall 2001) and subsequently impacted upon broader faculty practices.

In parallel with these developments within Infocom, CQU was perform various reviews and planning processes aim at developing “structures and systems that are responsive to the needs of learners and the changing nature of higher education in the 21st Century” (CQU 2001). The third stage of this process was the release of a Strategic Plan for Flexible Learning in 2001. Evidence of the importance of flexibility and on-going change is summarised by the following exhortation from that plan (CQU 2001)

The Strategic Plan for Flexible Learning is a ‘living document’. It is imperative that the Strategic Plan be regarded with the same flexibility as the very learning experiences it aims to promote and enhance. To regard the Strategic Plan as anything less will threaten CQU’s position as a market leader in a competitive environment

As described in Chapter 4, during the second-half of the 1990s CQU, in partnership with a commercial company, create a number of information campuses based in major Australian cities. By the late 1990s, these campuses in combination with the dot-com boom and changes in Australian migration rules contributed to significant growth in the student population at CQU. In 1996 international students comprised on 7.3% of CQU’s student population (Marshall and Gregor 2002). By 2002 CQU was, in terms of international students, one of Australia’s fastest growing universities with only 25% of CQU’s students being recent high school graduates (Marshall and Gregor 2002). By 2004, 40% of CQU’s student population were international students from 121 countries (Luck, Jones et al. 2004). From 1996 through 2004 CQU increased its total student numbers by almost 50%. Consequently, in 2002 the CQU Vice-Chancellor described CQU as the “most geographically disparate, ethnically diverse and fastest growing student population of any Australian University” (Hancock 2002).

By 2002, Infocom was teaching about 30% of all CQU students including almost 56% of the students at the international campuses (Jones 2003). From 1999 through 2002 Infocom student numbers more than doubled (Condon, Shepherd et al. 2003). However, by 2003 the global downturn in IT started to impact Infocom enrolments. Table 5.2, adapted from Condon et al (2003), summarises the trend in Infocom student numbers from 1998 through 2003.

Table 5.2 – Increase in Infocom student numbers – 1998-2003 (adapted from Condon, Shepherd et al. 2003).
Year Total Percentage Increase
1998 16646 Infocom’s first year
1999 18504 11% on previous year
2000 25784 39% on previous year
2001 37664 48% on previous year
2002 42654 13.2% on previous year
2003 36105 -15.3% on previous year

This growing complexity and the growing recognition of the importance of e-learning led CQU into a number of technological changes including the adoption of a number of enterprise systems. In order to cope with the increasing complexity CQU’s Vice Chancellor was strongly in favour of integrating the university’s administrative systems (Jones, Behrens et al. 2004). Consequently, in 1999 CQU’s senior management took the decision to implement the PeopleSoft suite of administrative systems (McConachie 2001). The implementation of PeopleSoft was seen as a business process re-engineering project which would require second-order structural and policy change at the University (McConachie 2001). The decision to adopt an ERP system like PeopleSoft was common within the Australian higher education sector at this time. By 2002 almost 90% of Australian universities had adopted at least one module of an ERP from a major vendor with approximately 55% of universities using PeopleSoft (Beekhuyzen, Nielsen et al. 2002).

In 2002, CQU’s Vice-Chancellor continued a long-running mantra of CQU senior management by writing that universities needed the ability to be responsive to a world that was changing fast and needed to provide education that was flexible in terms of delivery time, mode, location and content (Hancock 2002). The increasing requirement for flexibility and the accompanying increasing interest in online learning meant that by 1999 CQU’s existing processes for online/multimedia development – focused around the interactive multimedia unit (Macpherson and Smith 1998) described in chapter 4 – could no longer respond to demand (Sturgess and Nouwens 2004). After a survey and simple technical evaluation it was decided to adopt the use of WebCT as a trial institutional learning management system (LMS) (Sturgess and Nouwens 2004). An academic interviewed by Gregor et al (2002) reports major problems with the WebCT trials dur to inadequate infrastructure, a problem solved by the purchase of a large central Web server. Subsequently, WebCT became the official, institutional platform for e-learning. By the end of 2003 just over 10% of courses offered by CQU had a course website (Jones 2003). WebCT was replaced with Blackboard in 2004 (Danaher, Luck et al. 2005), which in turn was replaced by Moodle in 2010 (Tickle, Muldoon et al. 2009).

Impacts of these changes

As a result of the changes described above CQU had a diverse student population quite unlike that of a traditional university (Marshall and Gregor 2002). It was not unusual for course enrolments at the international campuses be considerably greater than those on the Queensland campuses (Oliver and Van Dyke 2004). By 1999 it was already obvious that these changes had significantly increased the complexity in teaching, increased duplication of teaching methods and significantly decreased time and resources (Jones 1999). Speaking based on experience teaching at CQU Kehoe et al (2004) describe how the development of large undergraduate courses, challenging at any time, becomes even more complex when the students represent a combination of internal and distance education students, and domestic and international students. By 2001 CQU had 11 course offerings that had over 1000 enrolled students. Typically these courses would be supported by close to 20 academic staff, including a number of casual staff, all managed by a single CQU academic.
The 1999 CQU review of distance education and flexible learning recognised that the work necessary to continue to provide existing services, while at the same time plan, implement and progress a broad array of on-going changes was considerable (CQU 1999). The growing complexity of teaching and learning on this scale led to the development of additional policies, procedures, systems and support structures to guide the management of teaching and learning. This included the employment of additional staff. Over an 18 month period Infocom staff numbers rose from 80 to 150 staff with a doubling of general staff (25 to 53) and almost a doubling of academic staff (55 to almost 90) (Condon, Shepherd et al. 2003). At the same time, the increasingly complex demands created by these changes focused attention on the need for supporting information systems such as an ERP (Oliver and Van Dyke 2004). However, there were significant problems with some of the systems implemented to address these problems. Oliver and Van Dyke (2004) report that rather than decrease staffing costs, the implementation of a new ERP, had increased staffing levels suggesting that processes had become more complicated, rather than simpler, and that cited benefits for staff have been “difficult to discern in practice”. Drawing on CQU experience, Jones et al (1999) identify two characteristics of the systems and processes set up to respond to these changes which limit flexibility. First, the cost of setting these systems suggests a period of stable use in order to recoup costs. Second, how aspects of learning and teaching are split amongst existing organisational structures limit convergence and integration.

The Vice-Chancellor of CQU writing in 2002 recognised that the institution’s “rapid growth “has placed great strain on its staff and its physical and technological infrastructure” (Hancock 2002). In particular, the attempt to increase flexibility by offering year-round teaching had placed great strain on staff and required new approaches to workload and workforce planning (Hancock 2002). Numerous authors (McConachie 2001; Luck, Jones et al. 2004; Oliver and Van Dyke 2004) describe how CQU staff members increasingly describe themselves as change weary. McConachie (2001) describe how CQU staff perceive the many changes of previous years to have been poorly communicated and badly managed leading to a climate where further change is unwelcome. Not surprisingly, it is not unusual for academic staff to resist attempts to alter their routines or their control over specific tasks (Hough, McNaught et al. 1998; Jones, Gregor et al. 2003).

As outlined in Section 5.2.1 the foundation Infocom Dean led the development of a “glocal networked learning paradigm” (Marshall 2001) that was first trailed with Infocom’s Singapore operations. As with other changes, this one required the provision of policies, processes, resources and systems for successful implementation. Early in 2000 the author, and chief Webfuse designer, was seconded away from teaching to help support the Singapore project. By August 2001 the decision was made to extend this assignment for as long as necessary (Marshall 2000), to broaden its scope beyond Singapore and consequently led to the author taking on the position of Faculty Teaching and Learning Innovation Officer.

The growing importance of the web and Webfuse to Infocom’s operations is demonstrated by the changes in the Infocom web team. Responsible for maintaining the faculty’s website, including its online learning operations, the web team was also responsible for the on-going development of Webfuse. From 1997 through 2000 the web team consisted of a webmaster, a part-time “developer” and ad hoc support from other faculty technical staff. The webmaster was responsible for the design and support of the entire faculty website and included some tasks associated with Webfuse development. The part-time “developer” was the author who, while not employed to perform Webfuse development, continued developing Webfuse for research purposes. By 2001 the web team had expanded to a webmaster, three permanent developers and a contracted developer (2001-2003).

As shown in Table 5.2 by 2003 Infocom student numbers were beginning to drop, most attributable to the global downturn in IT. Previous external perceptions of Infocom as innovative with hard working staff began to change to one where Infocom was seen as greedy and somewhat less than successful (Condon, Shepherd et al. 2003). By late 2003 the foundation Dean of Infocom was seconded to special projects and left the University in early 2004 (Jones, Behrens et al. 2004). Also in late 2003 and in line with the drop in student numbers there was indication that faculty budgets would be decreased and an increased push for centralisation of services. During 2004 CQU underwent another organisational review which led to an organisational restructure during 2005. During this time Webfuse support first moved into one of the new faculties and then into CQU’s central IT division. By 2008 there was one Webfuse developer working for the central IT division.


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Condon, A., J. Shepherd, et al. (2003). Managing the evolution of a new faculty in the 21st century. ATEM’2003. Adelaide, SA.

CQU (1999). Review of distance education and flexible learning "The Foresight Saga". Rockhampton, Central Queensland University: 43.

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Danaher, P. A., J. Luck, et al. (2005). "The stories that documents tell: Changing technology options from Blackboard, Webfuse and the Content Management System at Central Queensland University." Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development 2(1): 34-43.

Gregor, S., A. Wassenaar, et al. (2002). "Develoing a virtual organization: Serendipity or strategy?" Asian Academy of Management 7(1): 1-19.

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4 thoughts on “Institutional changes – 2000 and beyond – and their impact

  1. iancreid


    Fascinating stuff – very similar to experiences at UniSA! I do hope you will make links between these events and the larger picture (eg commercialization of universities, business oriented approaches to management, etc)

    1. G’day Ian,

      Thanks for the comments.

      I think there’s a very interesting paper or three to be written reflecting on the last 15 years of distance, open, flexible, e-, and blended learning in Australian universities.

      I have a feeling that there are group of universities that have been through very similar experiences. Somewhat like the above.

      As I was re-reading old strategic and management plans from 10 years ago, I couldn’t help but notice a sense of deja vu with respect to more recent plans. I have more than a sneaking suspicion that the outcomes are likely to be much the same.

      As for making the link more broadly, I don’t think I’ve done it in the above. I need to work that in as well – within the limited space I have. I had did this to some extent in an earlier chapter. Will need to ponder more on that.

      Thanks for the feedback.


  2. Jo Luck

    Hi David, I think you have most of the major factors/changes at CQU that have influenced student numbers, student cohorts and changes to student Information Systems.

    I agree with Ian’s comments in that you need to link this to the Australian Higher Education sector in the last decade. You have a copy of my thesis. I write briefly about managerialism in section 2.3 Situating Academic Work Practices in Australian Higher Education. That will give you some key references eg Simon Marginson etc.

    I think that you need to reorganise how you write this chapter. The way it is now is very confusing as you jump backwards and forwards chronologially sometimes in the one paragraph! Also you write about faculty systems and institutional systems in the same paras. I hear Bobby’s voice ringing in my ears – one significant point per paragraph.

    Perhaps if you go from the big picture level down to the faculty level it might help with the readability. Eg, Write a paragraph or two about how the Australian HE environment was influencing CQU late 1990s – 2010, then a few paragraphs about how CQU responded to those pressures. Finally write about how the Faculty was affected and responded to those external pressures.

    Then you can move onto the impact of those changes on the webuse team and the development of webuse.

    Consider putting some of this information into a table. In one of my data chapters the addition of tables to convey detail cut down the verbosity and increased the understandability enormously.

    Lastly, I think you need to name or number the VCs or write VC (1996-2001) VC (2001-2004) VC (2004-2009). I knew who you were referring to because i lived through it but a reader external to CQU would not understand that there were 3 VCs during this timeframe. You may need to do a similar thing with the Deans.

    Good luck with this takes me back to the horrors of two and half years ago ;-)


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