We recently surveyed the content management systems used by 4,000 US universities and colleges to publish digital content and deliver digital services. And we’ve previously published similar surveys for post-secondary institutions in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
We’ve now taken our first run at uncovering the content management systems (CMS) that European Union universities use: adding the remaining 27 countries to our earlier UK survey.
We scanned over 2,000 university, college and other specialist post-secondary education institutions across the EU to determine which CMSs post-secondary institutions have deployed for digital service delivery and content publishing.
To identify which institutions to include in our survey we used data from the European Tertiary Education Register (ETER) a database of Europe’s post-secondary education institutions.
We initially extracted records for 2,400 institutions across 28 countries. We cleaned the dataset to eliminate duplicates, remove institutions closed or merged since the data was collected and update the URL listed as the link to the institution’s homepage.
Data scrubbing produced a final dataset of 2,354 institutions. We tested each institution’s main homepage with our CMS detection software to identify the underlying content management system present, if any.
After three iterations of automated scanning, manual resolution of ambiguous results and sample checking, we detected the CMSs on 1,834 of 2,354 sites (77.9%). By comparison our CMS detection rate was 87.5% for US universities.
|Country||No. of HEIs||Most Popular CMS||Country||No. of HEIs||Most Popular CMS||Country||No. of HEIs||Most Popular CMS|
Table 1: Number of higher education institutions (HEI) surveyed in each EU member state and
the most popular content management system found in each market. Total number of higher education institutions: 2,354
A list of the CMS suppliers, for which we could find two or more installations among 1,834 institutional websites, is at the end of the article.
Open-source versus commercial suppliers
The 1,834 survey websites use 124 different CMSs. US universities work with a smaller set of 62 CMSs for broadly the same number of main institutional websites (2,039). While we treat WordPress as a single platform/supplier, we identified 35 different WordPress generations (versions 3.7.29 to 5.2.3) in use across 278 different institutions.
To reach 90th percentile (1,653 of 1,834 sites) site coverage universities deploy an additional 17 different CMS platforms.
Of the 21 different CMSs used by 90% (1,653 of 1,834) sites 11 are open-source and 10 are commercial solutions: open-source CMSs are marked with an ‘O’ in the chart below. Eighty-seven percent of the sites in the 90th percentile grouping use open-source CMSs.
Chart 1: Top 21 Content Management Systems used by 1,834 EU higher education institutions
CMS popularity varies by country
Six countries comprise almost 2 in 3 (1,445 of 2,354) of the EU’s higher education institutions: Germany, France, Poland, Italy, the UK and Portugal. Table 2 shows the top 5 CMSs, as measured by number of installations, for each of the ‘big six’ markets.
|Market Rank||Germany||France||Poland||Italy||United Kingdom||Portugal|
|4||Plone||TYPO3 CMS||TYPO3 CMS||Plone||Sitecore||Sharepoint|
|5||CMS Fiona||Joomla||Squiz Matrix||Liferay||WordPress||Hubspot|
Table 2: Top 5 Content Management Systems used in the EU's 6 largest tertiary education markets as measured by number of institutions
Specific CMS usage practices vary by country but a number of observations can be drawn from the market share data for the six main markets, shown in the charts below.
Chart 2: Top 5 CMS have 86% share of German higher education institutions
Chart 3: Top 5 CMS have 86% share of French higher education institutions
Chart 4: Top 5 CMS have 91% share of Polish higher education institutions
Chart 5: Top 5 CMS have 89% share of Italian higher education institutions
Chart 6: Top 5 CMS have 64% share of UK higher education institutions
Chart 7: Top 5 CMS have 82% share of Portuguese higher education institutions
- WordPress is the most popular content management system in four of the six major EU tertiary education markets and has installations in all but one EU member state.
- German and Austrian TYPO3 installations account for its strong overall presence in this survey. However, TYPO3 is represented in 17 of the EU’s 28 markets and we note that TYPO3 is one of a small number of suppliers specifically focusing on higher education, as shown in Table 3 below.
- Drupal is used in 25 of 28 EU markets and has a consistent second or third spot in the largest six EU higher education markets.
- France is a more evenly balanced CMS market than the other large EU higher education markets, as can be seen in chart 4. And, even has three domestic open-source projects with material market share in post-secondary education: K-Sup, Ametys and SPIP.
- The UK market is idiosyncratic with three commercial suppliers (TerminalFour, Contensis and Sitecore) grabbing 40% market share and WordPress being a minor market participant. Contensis is a domestic UK supplier with no higher education installations outside the UK. TerminalFour is a specialist higher education CMS supplier with EU installations in Ireland and the UK. Sitecore has tertiary education institution installations in seven EU markets, but the UK is by far the largest (15 of 27 sites).
- Joomla is surprisingly popular with EU higher education institutions, despite being slow to release versions that catch up with capabilities in WordPress or Drupal. Joomla is installed at institutions in 22 of the 28 EU member states.
Higher education is a distinct CMS market
Our CMS discovery exercise highlighted that a small group of commercial and open-source suppliers is targeting the post-secondary education sector with solutions designed to meet their needs. Among the suppliers identified in our EU survey the following have higher education focused solutions:
Table 3: Tertiary education focused CMS suppliers
Does the EU tertiary education market have too many CMS suppliers?
The unequivocal answer is yes. While 21 different suppliers compete for business with 90% of the institutions surveyed the remaining 10% of the market - a further 181 websites – uses 103 different content management systems. In fact, 77 of the sites are supported by a single instance of a CMS.
As we observed in our US higher education market survey, it is difficult to see how sites using a unique or in-house developed CMS can ensure the platform is under active development to meet post-secondary education’s digital services, marketing and content needs.
No real website builder presence
In our US higher education CMS survey we found about 2% (35/2,055) of institutions use website builder services, such as Squarespace, Weebly or Wix, to establish their web presences. We found only three EU tertiary education institution website out of 1,834 using website builder platforms: Webnode and Wix.
We used Chrome developer tools to examine the source code for a sample of sites for which we were unable to identify a CMS, to better understand their underlying composition. This exercise revealed a number of hand-coded websites and sites that were not responsive. If only for cost reasons institutions with legacy sites should evaluate website builder solutions as a stepping stone to more user-friendly, responsive and SEO-optimised websites.
Conclusion – marketing leading solutions
We believe that the marketing leading CMS solutions adopted by EU tertiary education institutions have a number of common characteristics, which we noted in our similar US higher education survey:
- Product vision – the leading vendors have clearly stated their vision of why their CMS fits the post-secondary education market and how it will evolve to meet institutional requirements.
- Community of Practice –successful CMSs have associated communities of practice, along with regular user conferences, networking opportunities, online discussions and other venues in which to share common issues and challenges.
- Focus – the market leading CMSs for higher education are generally that vendor’s sole focus and not an offering within a product portfolio.
- Evolution – new product versions appear regularly and a published product roadmap exists so users can understand longer-term product evolution.
The following is a list of the content management system suppliers for which two or more installations were found during our survey:
Table 4: Links to CMS suppliers with two or more tertiary education institution installations discovered during our survey
Our article reports the results of an exercise in which our software scanned and assessed 2,400 main higher education websites across the European Union. The extracted data shows the diversity of content management systems (and underlying technologies) being employed.
The same variety of websites and content management systems exists across individual institutions, with similar elements of legacy technologies, security and appropriate allocation of development resources. Without an accurate website or content management system inventory, it’s hard to plan and execute appropriate responses to those issues. We’d be happy to discuss how to run an audit and collect data critical to managing large collections of websites (web estates).
If you have observations, comments or feedback about the data, how we collected it or want to see the underlying detail, please be in touch.
If you've read this far, take a look at similar data for US universities and colleges: US University and College Content Management Systems | 2021
 Note: The ETER database includes 367 German tertiary education institutions for the academic year 2016/2017 and it is this number that has been included in our analysis. There are a number of additional tertiary education institutions present in Germany that are not included in the ETER database.