Case Study: SCMS - Savitribai Phule Pune University Pune, India
The Department of Scientific Computing, Modeling & Simulation, Savitribai Phule Pune University Pune, India, has a long history (more than 20 years) of preferring Free software over proprietary software in its academic programs. We presently offer two academic degree programs, one in scientific computing, and the other in modeling & simulation. Students from both the programs require substantial interaction with computers and software at an advanced level.
Although markets are filled with non-free software targeted specifically at such academic programs, our experience tells us that their use can be easily avoided. Many high-quality Free Software tools are available, and some of these are, in fact, better than their proprietary counterparts. For example, we have been using E-learning platform Moodle consistently since 2015 to manage courses, conduct exams, and keep track of every single activity related to various courses. All our computer labs and servers run on GNU/Linux based operating systems. We encourage students and faculty to use Free software tools like Python, Julia, etc., GNU octave or SciLab instead of MATLAB, Mathics instead of Mathematica, R instead of S-Plus/SAS/minitab/etc., GNU compilers instead of Intel compilers, Signal instead of WhatsApp, OpenFOAM instead proprietary CFD tools, etc. This is in addition to departmental services like ticketing system (RT), mail client (RoundCube), Git server (Gitlab), etc.
The ongoing pandemic has seen a big surge for non-free software like Zoom and Google meet: We find that freedom-respecting platforms like Jitsi meet for video conferencing, SimpleScreenRecorder and Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) for screen/video recording, etc., work great. Recorded classes are in turn hosted on our Moodle or Nextcloud servers instead of proprietary services like Dropbox, Google drive, etc. This is possible because we maintain our own servers, and decent connectivity/bandwidth is available (through the University) to host these services.
The pandemic also gave us an opportunity to interact with and help sister departments to adopt GNU/Linux, Moodle, and Free software in general: The assurance of readily available local expertise in Free software was enough for many to start considering a move to Free software. Shrinking budgets thanks to the pandemic seem to be providing a financial incentive.
We wholeheartedly encourage and recommend educational institutions, students, teachers, administrators, and decision-makers to start using freedom-respecting Free software tools. We will be happy to advise (and assist, to whatever extent possible) educational institutions which are considering adoption of Free Software.
(On a factual note, the department does not interfere with the software preferences and decisions related to research funding brought in by individual researchers.)
Prof. Mihir Arjunwadkar
Dept. of Scientific Computing, Modeling, and Simulation,
Savitribai Phule Pune University,
Ganeshkhind, Pune 411007