The ITAM Review

News, reviews and resources for worldwide ITAM, SAM and Licensing professionals.

Software Licensing in Academic Environments


Software licensing for academic environments is different to corporate organisations as vendors want young people to use their software from an early age. They believe that this will lead to future usage or sales in the future as the user has been using the software since they were young. Another reason for the difference in price is due to the fact that academic institutions will buy software in bulk for all of their machines or campuses, much like a corporate enterprise agreement.

How is licensing different?

If you are a “Qualified Educational Establishment” then licensing is different, as are the costs. The primary license metric is a ‘site’ license that allows the school or university to deploy the software across all of their machines that are on a particular site. However, for universities with multiple campuses, there is also the option for a ‘site’ license that allows every machine or use to use the software. This is more of a company wide license than site as it covers the whole institution.

Along with site licenses, there are also user, device, datacentre and subscription licensing available under an academic license. The majority of software vendors will allow the academic organisation the use rights to use the latest software products that they offer, and they also offer the chance to download previous versions if the school or university wishes to.

The likes of Microsoft and Adobe offer license agreements for academic institutions that require a minimum number of seats or users, whereas IBM offers single licenses that are heavily discounted. This number is usually around the 50 seat or 50 user mark, which for most academic institutions wont be a problem as they will have a bigger user base.

There are some examples of non Qualified Educational Establishments. They include:

  1. Non-accredited schools
  2. Museums
  3. Hospitals not wholly owned and operated by an Educational Establishment
  4. Churches
  5. Religious organisations that are not accredited schools
  6. Libraries
  7. Training centres or schools granting certificates for courses such as computer software training or job training that are not accredited schools that grant degrees requiring not less than the equivalent of two (2) years of full-time study
  8. Military schools that do not grant academic degrees



The costs for academic licenses are significantly lower than corporate organisations. How much the licenses are reduced depends on the vendor and the agreement the academic institute manages to negotiate. As mentioned previously software vendors provide a discount for academic institutions as it makes sense for them to encourage the use of their software to young people. If students learn how to use their software, then they are likely to use it in the future and purchase copies for future work or home use.

There is also software that is free for use within an academic environment. Autodesk for example allow students in education or education facilities to use some of their products for free via their cloud based services. However, terms and conditions still need to be read and adhered to:

“Free Autodesk software and/or cloud-based services are subject to acceptance of and compliance with the terms and conditions of the software license agreement or terms of service that accompany such software or cloud-based services.  Software and cloud-based services provided without charge to Education Community members may be used solely for purposes directly related to learning, teaching, training, research or development and shall not be used for commercial, professional or any other for-profit purposes”.

 There are other vendors that provide a similar service to academic institutions that allow them to use all or some of their software products for free, so long as they comply by the terms and conditions set out by the vendor. Again, this is a good way for vendors to promote their products to the next generation of users.

Managing software licenses

Despite the software licenses being significantly cheaper, the software assets still need to be managed correctly. Compliance rules still exist in the academic environment, so the effective management of the licenses throughout their lifecycle is still an extremely important process. Whilst we mentioned that most of the licenses available are site licenses, user and device licenses still exist, as does datacentre license metrics like by processor or by core. There are still a number of financial and legal software risks faced by academic organisations and auditors have been known to audit universities or colleges.

For large academic environments, IT Asset Management (ITAM) processes still need to be in place, and an ITAM tool needs to be implemented to manage the software. There are a number of ITAM tools that also offer discounts for using the solution within the academic institution. Despite the fact that the majority of licenses are site based, there may be campus restrictions or ‘college’ restrictions. This is why academic institutions require ITAM to effectively manage their software assets.

Will I still be audited?

 Yes, software vendors will still audit academic institutions. If the academic institution has a subscription license agreement then the vendor is likely to audit at the end of the agreement period, even if the subscription is renewed.

If the initiation is under-licensed, then the usual fines will be applied. However, due to the reduction in cost of licenses, the fines will not be as large as a corporate organisation. However, despite the smaller fines it must be mentioned that academic intuitions may have smaller software or IT budget than corporate organisations, so the fines will have just as much financial impact on the organisation.

Furthermore, academic institutions rely on the reputation of the school or university to attract students and business. Auditors like to publicise any ‘wins’ that they have had from an audit, and academic institutions are no different, so being non-compliant and coming out badly from an audit could prove damaging to their reputation.


So, academic licensing is different and some argue easier to manage. However, academic software licenses are still software assets, and still need to be managed accordingly. Compliance still needs to be met as the threat of audit is there for academic institutions as well as corporate organisations.

If you feel we have missed anything out in this article, or you want to have your say on academic licensing, then please feel free to get in touch and have your voice heard!

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About David Foxen

David Foxen is a Software Asset Management expert and enthusiast. He had a vast experience of successfully implementing SAM, SAM tools and also made huge cost savings. A member of the ISO Standards WG21, David is a massive ITAM geek, so uses any opportunity to talk about the subject to who-ever will listen. He believes that the industry needs to share its knowledge and success stories to help the SAM industry mature and become more effective. Always willing to help, his primary goal is to make a difference to organisations and the SAM industry so everyone will know how epic SAM is!


  1. Rory Canavan says:

    Hi Dave,

    Nicely written (as always) one point to convey about trying to do SAM in education is that of winning over the academics – they (rightly) have considerable influence over the software used to teach students; however their should be an academic imperative to stay sharp on new releases of software. One lecturer I knew was using (and advocating) the use of Adobe CS2! If I’m a student starting a 3 year course, I don’t want to hit expert status on 15 year old software by the end of my course – making me considerably less employable.

    Put SAM in these terms and the vice chancellors perk up at the prospect of students going elsewhere to study.

  2. Phill Clarke says:


    This is a nice article on a subject that is often overlooked in the licensing world.

    My only question to you would be is the primary license metric “site” for academic organisations? The only vendor that I would agree with would be Microsoft and then only from a desktop and client access perspective. The main reason for this is that application requirements are specific to the Faculties/Schools and whilst having site licenses may provide the easiest solution other metrics will often offer better value. I spent years working in HE with many of them having responsibility for software licensing and the metric that I applied more than any other was concurrency. In my opinion access to this metric is one of the major benefits academic institutions obtain from the software vendors and it didn’t even get a mention….

    I also agree with Rory that the biggest challenge is getting the academics on side. Having them represented in the initial discussions when planning the introduction new technologies or even a major version upgrade of an existing application allows them to air their issues and have them addressed at an early stage. More often than not this will make the transition much smoother.

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