Heads in the Clouds? Measuring Universities' Migration to Public Clouds: Implications for Privacy & Academic Freedom

T. Fiebig, F.S. Gürses, C. Hernandez Ganan, E. Kotkamp, F.A. Kuipers, Martina Lindorfer, M.M.G.C. Prisse, P.T. Sari

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeChapterScientificpeer-review

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With the emergence of remote education and work in universi- ties due to COVID-19, the ‘zoomification’ of higher education, i.e., the migration of universities to the clouds, reached the public dis- course. Ongoing discussions reason about how this shift will take control over students’ data away from universities, and may ulti- mately harm the privacy of researchers and students alike. How- ever, there has been no comprehensive measurement of universi- ties’ use of public clouds and reliance on Software-as-a-Service of- ferings to assess how far this migration has already progressed.
We perform a longitudinal study of the migration to public clouds among universities in the U.S. and Europe, as well as institutions listed in the Times Higher Education (THE) Top100 between Jan- uary 2015 and October 2022. We find that cloud adoption differs between countries, with one cluster (Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland) showing a limited move to clouds, while the other (U.S., U.K., the Netherlands, THE Top100) frequently outsources universities’ core functions and services—starting long before the COVID-19 pandemic. We attribute this clustering to several socio- economic factors in the respective countries, including the general culture of higher education and the administrative paradigm taken towards running universities. We then analyze and interpret our results, finding that the implications reach beyond individuals’ pri- vacy towards questions of academic independence and integrity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings on Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Event23rd Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium - Lausanne, Switzerland
Duration: 10 Jul 202315 Jul 2023
Conference number: 23


Conference23rd Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium
Abbreviated titlePETS 2023


  • Platformization
  • Platform Capitalism
  • Centralization
  • EdTech


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