No Adobe Software: What Happened?
An unexpected change in the Adobe Company license policy and a deficit of budget resources that would cover the full cost of the Adobe After Effects Software resulted in a shortage of program installations during the Spring 2017 semester. Despite the discrepancy the software continues to be used by students for animation in three Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC).
Students taking one of these courses in the JMC Laboratory had to find their own alternatives of acquiring the software in order to take the class. From student subscriptions to utilizing the JMC studio that is used only for special projects, the university has provided alternatives that not all of the students have regarded as satisfying.
According to OCC’s Director Lachezar Filtchev, AUBG’s Office of Communication and Computing (OCC) contacted the Adobe Systems Software company, represented by the company BMG in Bulgaria, and were informed that the latter have changed their license policy. In the past, AUBG has been able to purchase the retail package of the Adobe Software and install it in the labs. Additional costs have been paid in the cases when the university has decided to buy the most up-to-date version. Currently, Adobe requires paying a subscription of minimum one year which was not considered in the last year’s budget.
“We worked under the assumption that monthly subscription and an institutional discount is available to us,” said Dean of Faculty Robert White. “And in the end, it turned out that this assumption was incorrect. And once we found out that it became a more significant problem than we had anticipated.”
Since the budget for this academic year was allocated in the previous year, purchasing the Adobe software was an unexpected cost for the university. According to Dean White, Adobe does not offer a monthly subscription which could be covered by AUBG through a combined funding by the JMC department and additional money allocated by another budget. According to Adobe’s new policy, institutions could subscribe for the software for a one-year minimum.
“Because we are located in Europe we cannot have a month by month subscription,” said Dean White. “And the discount that is available to educational institutions is not available to us. That means to get the software for the semester to bridge the gap between now and the ASHA grant [a grant that would fund the subscription for the next academic year] is going to cost around $8000.”
Another issue for JMC students enrolled in these classes was their need to pay the cost while the software might be provided by the university for future students. Dean White stated that AUBG will buy the software for next academic year. According to him, AUBG will receive a grant from the American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (USAID/ASHA) that will cover a full two-year subscription for the software.
“We are buying a subscription for the software,” said Dean White.“It’s part of a grant that we have from ASHA. ASHA grant includes a two-year subscription for the entire class for the software. This will happen in Fall 2017.”
Considering the denied funding and inability of the university to purchase the subscription, the JMC Department was given several options: either cancel the courses or let students buy the software by themselves. Contributing to the problem was Adobe’s inability to offer students discounts in Bulgaria, resulting in the paying of the full cost of the subscription by some students.
“Each step of this process took a lot of time in gathering information and ultimately we could not have gotten the software installed for the start of the semester even if funding appeared,” said Doctor Lynnette Leonard, Chair of the Journalism and Mass Communications Department. “We then decided to leave it up to the students by sending the email that they would have to purchase the software.”
Students who registered for the respective JMC classes received an email two weeks prior the beginning of the school year. One possible solution was to either buy the After Effects CC Software for €24.99 to €30.99 per month, or the whole Adobe Creative Cloud for €12.99 to €14.99 per month. Buying the software was an additional cost that the university did not consider, which in turn means an additional expense for students.
Doctor Leonard, who is working on the problem within the JMC Department, shared that she is not aware of the ASHA grant that allegedly should cover the subscription expenses for next semester. She said that the JMC Department is aware of the increased technology demand in the JMC industry. According to her the department is constantly working on finding a solution that would not price students out of the department. This solution might include purchasing new equipment, reducing textbook costs by finding free sources online, or finding open source software with a free license. However, she is not aware of the ASHA grant which supposedly will cover the subscription for next academic year.
“I have not been informed of a timeline for installation of software and use of the ASHA funds,” said Leonard. “After last semester, I am not confident that the solution will be in place for Fall 2017. I don’t want to over-promise on a solution that is entirely out of my control.”
Despite the uncertainty in the information about the future of the Adobe Software, somw students have found it unfair that they have to pay for the subscription, while the university will cover the cost in the future. Dean White commented that “the problem that we [the administration] faced is that since future students won’t be paying for it [After Effects], it seems unfair to impose the cost on students this semester.” He also said that considering the alternative solutions “it was actually cheaper for students to do it month by month by themselves rather than us [AUBG] taking an institutional subscription which should have cost significantly.”
How are current student dealing with the issue?
The courses using After Effects are Visual Communication: Theory and Practice, Special Topics: Animation, and Advanced Communication Design, as well as two senior projects and two independent studies. Students enrolled in one of those courses, face problems such as the unexpected cost of purchasing the software, problems with acquiring the software, and technical difficulties with its installation. Also, some of the students shared their confusion with the email received prior the beginning of the school year, informing them of the Adobe software problem.
“I was very lucky because my family already has a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud,” said Elizabeth Gibson, a second-year student, majoring in JMC. “If I hadn’t already had a subscription I would have had to figure that out. We got an email at the beginning of the school year, explaining that we can contact someone about buying it. And I am not sure if that meant that the school would purchase it for us or we have to buy it ourselves.”
The additional cost was also unexpected for many students who had to take one of those courses in order to graduate but are already financially strained due to graduation and graduate school expenses.
“Even if I could install it I am not sure if I can afford it,” said Saida Karimova, a fourth-year student, majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication. “I mean the student discount is around €30 per month. I am a senior and we have a lot of expenses around graduation. I am also applying for grad school.”
Even if students decide to purchase the software, it requires specific computer specs for its successful installation. Some of the students that experienced those technical difficulties have been forced to look for other alternatives. One of the solutions that they now have is to use the Media Studio in Balkanski Academic Center (BAC) which has After Effects software installed on two computers.
“The only alternative turned out to be the JMC studio since I tried to install After Effects on my laptop but it acted out,” said Karimova, enrolled in Animation class. “I really wanted to take this class and I was willing to do some sacrifices. I was very worried that it will not work out [referring to the JMC studio]. First I had to get access to the computer. Then I had to get access to the lab. Which took me something like a week and a half.”
According to Karimova, the university granted her access “but then nobody explained that I have to go and get the key. I didn’t know the Studio is keyed first of all. And then I didn’t know from whom I should get that key. Because I have never been there.”
Doctor Leonard shared the procedure that students have to follow if they want to acquire access to the JMC studio. According to her, it can be used for special projects only after the student has acquired a recommendation from their respective project supervising professor.
“We don’t have the operating hours to allow open access to these computers,” said Leonard. “So students should contact the professor they want to work with and once the project is agreed upon, permission requests are sent to me and OCC to allow scheduling for the room and access to the computers.”
JMC students who are not familiar with the procedures regarding the JMC studio have commented on the difficulties of figuring out who to contact and how to acquire access. Students who are forced to use the JMC Studio for their class projects also have to deal with the closing hours in Balkanski Academic Center and sharing the studio with students doing capstone projects. According to Karimova, the two computers in the JMC studio might not be enough for all JMC students who need to complete class projects or other special projects.
“I am scared that the studio is going to be booked by somebody else when I need it. So far Professor Timms [the JMC professor teaching the After Effects classes] has been really helpful,” said Karimova. “I was worried that last class I had to submit the last project by the end of class and I was worried that I won’t have enough time to finish it. But he said that if a problem arises I can submit a little bit later. He is flexible. It’s pretty obvious that I don’t have another option right now. But it’s getting more time-consuming. It’s getting more complex and it takes more time.”
Students enrolled in classes that use Adobe After Effects received notification on March 1, 2017, informing them about possible reimbursement of the money spent on “legitimate version of After Effects or a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud,” provided by the university and with the help of Dean White.