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The Management of World Wide Web Resources in Australian Universities

Roger Debreceny,

School of Commerce


Allan Ellis

School of Social and Workplace Development

Southern Cross University



The "home page" is now an ubiquitous feature of Australia's University sector. The services available on the "home page" range from a relatively simple set of information on the University to large and highly complex, multimedia institutional encyclopedia. Information provision comes from central sources as well as faculties, departments and administrative units. There is a paucity of research on the management of the Web function in the university sector. This paper reports the results of a survey of Australian university "Webmanagers". The responses to the survey show that web management is still concentrated within an Information Technology function, is relatively lightly resourced and yet is typically attempting to provide a very considerable amount of information on the Web site. The survey indicates that the increasing complexity of multiple sites and many end-users updating Web pages presents many challenges to the Webmanagers. The lack of an overall strategy for the use of the Web by university administrations is perhaps a more important constraint on their work. The ambitious plans of many Webmanagers for their Web sites, revealed in the survey, does not seem to correlate to the level of resourcing or the place of the Webmanager in the day to day operations of the University.


Every University in Australia has at least one World Wide Web server and a "home page". The services provided by these sites range from relatively simple introductions to the institution to large and highly complex, multimedia institutional encyclopedia. In a major change from the pre-Web period, the first research done on an unfamiliar university by most academics, researchers and journalists and increasingly by prospective students and careers advisers in schools is to visit the University home page. The home page has, in a very few years, become a core element of University public relations, information management and dissemination and to a lesser extent a snapshot of its teaching, learning and research activities.

Behind the service provided by is a person nominated as the manager of the Web server - known in many instances by the gender-specific term Webmaster and perhaps more accurately described as Webmanager. Whilst there has been a limited literature on the development and maintenance of University Web sites, very little is known about the management of these sites and even less about the Webmanager position. This paper attempts to redress this deficiency by reporting a survey of Australian University Webmanagers conducted in late 1997. It provides an analysis of the background and role of the Webmanager; their perceived staff development needs and the constraints that they face in the day to day management of the University Web site.

The remainder of this paper proceeds as follows: Section 2 provides background to the research and reports the highly limited research conducted in this field; Section 3 introduces the survey and discusses the manner in which the data was collected; Section 4 provides by way of context, an analysis of the complexity of University Web sites; Section 5 gives an analysis of the University Webmanager and Section 6 is a conclusion and call for further research on this important aspect of university management.


Hardly a week goes by that respected publications of wide circulation and readership such as Campus Review Weekly or the Higher Education section of The Australian do not mention the importance of educational technology in general or the role of the Web in particular. For example, the April 1997 submission of the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee to the Federal Government's "West" Review of Higher Education Financing and Policy noted that:

Investment, adoption and management of new information technology and telecommunications, and training in its use, will clearly be major issues for universities in the 21st Century. ... Only two years ago the Internet was largely unknown to the general public but its adoption into many spheres of society has been extraordinarily rapid. ... The ability to mix video and sound with text, data and still images can greatly enhance the learning experience. High capacity, broad band telecommunications (eg cable TV) coupled with new low-cost technologies will provide the greatest opportunities and threats to Australian universities.

As the AVCC notes, use of the Internet has had a longer history in the University sector than elsewhere in the community. Nonetheless, the Web is a relatively new feature of University information management. The first University Web servers were established in mid-1993. The University "home page" takes on many of the aspects of the proprietary and Gopher "Campus-Wide Information Systems" (CWIS) of preWeb (; ), while at the same time providing many new features. Perhaps most importantly, the University Web site uses a technology that is ubiquitous. The Web site is unquestionably more important than the previous iterations of CWISs.

There is very little published research on the management of University Web sites. Most research, whilst valuable, has been of the "long and travelled road" type. For example, an early pioneer of the Web as a campus wide information system set out a number of issues relating to the design of sites (). discusses the factors that lead to the implementation of the Hawaii Community College Web site - an interested staff member, pre-existing investments in networks and servers and an enthusiastic student - factors that were probably in common with many of the first generation of University web sites. provides a comprehensive framework, based upon the diffusion of innovation literature (; ; ), for the identification of critical success factors in the development. The recommendations for the development of a University Web site provided by Goldenfarb are, nonetheless, based on observation and personal experience. There would seem to be no published literature, in Australia or elsewhere, which provides a multi-institutional view of University web sites.

The Survey

The survey employed a Web form which stored responses on a database for subsequent analysis. The survey employed multiple choice and open ended questions. Each university was contacted by emailing the email address shown on the home page, such as Two follow up emails were made of those Universities that had not responded and a final phone request made to the few remaining universities. A total of 34 responses were received, some 81% of the total population of 42 targeted universities. One response had an unacceptable level of incomplete answers to multiple choice questions and was dropped from the study, leaving 33 institutions (79%). The distribution of universities by type is shown in Table 1, which indicates that the responses were reasonably distributed across the various classes of institution:

The University Web

As the focus of this paper is on the Webmanager and the nature of Web management, only a brief analysis of the nature of the University Web site will be made in this paper. This will provide context to the nature of the tasks that the Webmanager must undertake. Webmanagers must run many pages on a number of different servers. Table 2 shows the number of servers that are operated by the 32 universities, in their central Web management role - of course, their may be many more servers elsewhere in the institution. It is revealing that 7 universities (22%) run six or more servers, indicating both considerable technical management complexity as well as demands for information provision.

The number of pages that are maintained by the Webmanager and his or her team, if any, are shown in Table 3.

Table 1 Distribution of Responses

Table 3 Number of Pages Served

One heroic site reported that it had more than 20,000 pages under the control of the central University site. This would make it one of the larger sites in an Australian context. The pace at which pages change is a significant factor in the level of maintenance. Most sites (26 of 32 which answered this question) have less than 20 pages that change at least weekly. Of the balance, two sites reported that they changed at least 100 pages per week.

Questions on the provision of a total of fourteen services were asked with a scale of "Not provided", "Under my control" and "Under the control of another University server". Services included the University handbook, research overview and prospective student guide. An arbitrary score was awarded of zero for no provision, 1 for provision on another server and 2 for provision by the central Web site. It is recognised that these services are not equivalent. However, a total score is an indication of the complexity of sites. The maximum score is 924 (14 services * 2 * 33 universities). The actual total score was 578. This indicates that not only are a significant number of content services provided (370 out of a total 462 possible services or 80%) but that many are provided by the central Webmanager rather than the relevant group elsewhere in the University.

Table 2 Number of Servers

The Webmanager


In this section, we explore the background, responsibilities, tasks of Webmanagers and the challenges that they face. The background of Webmanagers can be summarised as being overwhelmingly male; are drawn from a computing technical background and are generally highly qualified and experienced. Only seven (21%) of the 33 respondents were female. Given the newness of Web technology, the Webmanagers have had reasonable experience, with a surprising one third having been in their position for more than three years, suggesting that they were the original Webmanagers.

Table 5: Webmanager time Spent on Web management

Given the multifaceted, informational aspect of the Web it had been expected to have seen a move of the Webmanager from an information technology responsibility to administration - perhaps the public relations office or registry. There was no evidence of such a move. Of the 33 respondents, 25 were employed in some form of IT function; three in administration; one in a library, another in a research office and, perhaps surprisingly, three in teaching schools or support centres.

Table 4 Number of Months in Webmanager Position

The position of Webmanager is only lightly resourced. A majority (23) had no other staff working on Web management. However of the balance, the most in the team was eight. Staffing, when weighted for other work responsibilities ranged from 0.3 to 2.3 equivalent full-time staff members. The amount of time that Webmanagers spent themselves on the Web was also limited, with less than half being effectively full-time Webmanagers, as is shown in Table 5.























New Pages












Table 6 - Tasks Performed by Webmanager

The Web managers were asked to give three instances of their typical work tasks. The results were categorised into common patterns and are summarised in Table 6. A number of conclusions can be reached from the responses. First, the Web seems to have reached a level of some stability within the university sector. There were some responses which indicated that major developments were underway, such as that they were "... writing code to interface to legacy systems and [the] University's Data Warehouse" and that they were "... currently building new server system to take over as corporate server". These two were, however, in the minority. Most Webmanagers seemed to be in maintenance mode, by maintaining existing pages and, clearly a major irritant, organising user access to allowing uploading of pages.

The work undertaken on a day to day basis does not seem to be correlated to plans for the medium term future of the sites. Many ambitious plans were set out, including for one university placing on the Web 2,000 on-line units; for several universities, conversion to database management of Web pages and for another installing a fully secure site with authentication for student course management. The level of resources devoted to the task and the amount of time that the Webmanagers are spending on maintenance and relatively low level development tasks would seem to mitigate against these changes being successfully implemented.

Human Resource Issues

The human face of the Web management role is the particular focus of this study. We did not find a particularly encouraging set of responses. Very surprisingly, for nearly half (15 of 33) of the respondents, their role as Webmanager was not part of their formal job specifications. They fit this work in around their formal roles such as Training Manager, Client Services Officer or Network Engineer. Reporting arrangements varied widely. For some Webmanagers there was no formal or informal reporting in place. For most of the others reporting is either ad-hoc or part of existing reporting relating to all tasks. While it is difficult to synthesise open-ended responses made on a Web form, it can be concluded that less than five universities have a plan in place for on-going enhancement of the Web site and work and report to that plan.

The Web is a rapidly changing technical environment. It is a major challenge to maintain technical competency. We were, therefore, interested in the level of staff development available to Webmanagers. Staff development opportunities were available to only a bare majority (18 of 33) of respondents. One Webmanager noted that when he asked to be able to go for training, was told to wait and that he had been "waiting since 1994". The level of staff development was highly variable. Some Webmanagers seem to have excellent access to conferences and training courses. At the other end of the spectrum, one Webmanager had been able to go to one conference and then only by funding the attendance from in-house, fee-paying courses.


Number of Mentions

Strategic direction




Technical Resources










Too many servers


Table 7 -- Constraints to successful work programme

We asked the Webmanagers to give three constraints that limit the successful completion of their tasks. Again, it is not straightforward to categorise open-ended answers from a variety of sources into a single table. Yet a number of trends were evident in the responses. First, problems with the strategic direction of the Web in the universities presented a major constraint to Webmanagers, as shown in Table 7, with 28 of the 85 responses mentioning this factor.

Some of the perceived strategic issues were at the most macro of levels. One Webmanager commented that there was "... a total belief by the University that the Web will save them money (particularly for undergrad courses) instead of viewing the enhanced options available by using the web". Another, in a comment that was repeated in different words by several Webmanagers, that there was a "lack of university structures and strategies for overall web development". It was a very rare respondent that noted that "... this Uni places high priority on its web services and therefore I am provided with high quality resources". this would appear to be a sad reflection of senior managements appreciation of the potential role of Web technology in the operation and development of their institutions

At a level closer to implementation, there was concern with the direction of co-ordination of the Web sites. One Webmanager said that they "... have no policies to direct people who wish to publish", another said that there was a "...lack of formal website design & editorial committee". Many Webmanagers felt that they had very little time to do more than fix broken links and perform the most essential of maintenance tasks, or as one noted in a humorous note "I need to occasionally sleep, eat, wash, etc.". The technical constraints included needs for better tools for page development, site management, database integration as well for a few Webmanagers, improved servers and network connectivity.


University Web sites present both opportunities and challenges. The opportunities for universities to exploit the power of current and emerging Web technologies show no signs of abating in the immediate future. Indeed if the corporatisation and quasi-privatisation of universities continues the position of the Website as a powerful symbol of the institution can only be enhanced.

Opportunities exist to make Websites truly user friendly, productive to navigate and filled with information relevant to the user. There is also room for the sites to provide an experience tailored for the particular interests of the visitor; be they academic, student, parent or career adviser. Many administrative functions can be accomplished by the web site including, for example, the ability to have one place that all procedures and bylaws can be made available to all within the University. The Website can then, by use of appropriate design methodologies, fulfil a role which can satisfy the most detailed of queries - for example, a student seeking the latest version of the regulations on progression or examinations - to a broad overview for a parent concerned about the appropriateness of a particular institution for their offspring. Meeting such different user-needs requires adoption of appropriate navigation and search tools as well as a wide variety of media types. The example of the student requiring administrative minutiae can be met with straightforward text pages, but require the embracing of navigation paths and metadata that either allow the student to navigate around the shoals of administravia or search directly for the required information. The example of the parent requiring assurance on the quality of the university experience can be accomplished with relatively simple navigation but require a full suite of tools which move the site from text to truly interactive multimedia.

The challenges of University Web management, were the functionality discussed in the previous paragraph or in the medium term plans disclosed by the University Webmanagers to be implemented, will be to train staff in the very wide range of skills which are necessary. Indeed a logical progression can be seen from the which brought the University to the Web in the mid-90s; to the of this survey to the where a multi-skilled, yet focussed team brings fundamental change to the nature of both internal and external communications. The Webteam of the near future will need one or more manager, programmer; database administrator; network engineer, graphic artist, journalist, trainer, evangelist and advertising and e-commerce manager. The real challenge is therefore for senior university management to recognise the potential of Web technologies for the dissemination and management of information and to adequately resource the planning and development of their central Website. There is very little evidence in this survey that there is such recognition or resourcing in Australia's universities. Indeed, to the contrary, there is evidence that the Web for a number of universities has reached a level of stability categorised by limited funding and limited information provision. The ambitious plans of many Webmanagers does not seem to correlate to the level of resourcing or the place of the Webmanager in the day to day operations of the University.

The World Wide Web presents many opportunities for more effective and efficient two-way communication between the University and its stakeholders. The uptake in use of the Web within Australia's universities has been very rapid. It impacts on a wide variety of information producers within the University. Very little research has been conducted on this important technology outside of the realm of the early adopters of the Web as an educational technology. More research is needed which addresses the use of the Web from perspectives such as university management, student administration, the registry, printery, marketing and the other core functions which distinguish the modern University.


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(c) Roger Debreceny, Allan Ellis


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