Working group to resolve email overload

November 21, 2003

The discovery that staff at Newcastle University sent and received more than 100 million emails in the past year - double the number for 2000 - has prompted moves to resolve the mounting information overload.

The results of a survey at Newcastle led to concern about the explosion in the number of emails, with some heads of departments receiving more than 80 a day.

"If you're teaching and researching, there's no way you can look at that many emails, and the worry is that something important will be missed," said Mick Warwicker, chair of the working group. "Can we really afford to pay professors to spend their time answering hundreds of emails?"

Mr Warwicker said a new working group would consider whether to issue guidelines on the use of email, in particular on the use of mail bases, or to opt for a more draconian solution that would physically control email traffic.

But Lindsay Marshall, senior lecturer in the social impact of computing at Newcastle, who found 3,000 junk-mail messages in his inbox on his return from a two-week holiday recently, said it would be "idiotic" to ban email.

Dr Marshall, a self-confessed "geek", said he kept up by reading his emails over breakfast. "I get people trying to sell me steel baths and all manner of other junk, and I'm getting more and more emails in Chinese, which is a worry. But email is a wonderful way to communicate and does improve quality of life," he said.

He added: "As an admissions tutor, it makes people like me accessible in a way we have never been in the past. We may have information overload, but the solution is training people not to send unnecessary messages. If everyone stopped going to so many meetings, they might find it easier to keep on top of their emails."

· Old universities are lagging behind their post-1992 counterparts in embracing online learning technologies.

A survey by the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association found that 84 per cent of pre-1992 universities were using some form of virtual learning compared with 97 per cent of newer universities. Higher education colleges lagged further behind at 67 per cent.

· Almost 900 students from 38 countries have been recruited to study online with UK eUniversities Worldwide.

UKeU launched the first course in March and now has students on 17 courses from 16 UK universities in seven subject areas.

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