Since March, when the Department for Education (DfE) announced that English colleges must pay Jisc a subscription from August 2019, we’ve been talking with as many affected members as possible to answer questions and listen to feedback.
Several common concerns have emerged from this country-wide communications process, mainly around:
- Cost and value for money
- Connection to the national research and education network (NREN), the Janet Network
- Cyber security provision
There have also been queries around digital resources, and scrutiny of our own cost-saving plans.
Here, we try to answer those questions and bust a few myths.
Members who would like further information should contact their account manager.
What are the risks of moving away from Jisc?
You will expose yourself to slower, more contended network provision that is less secure, more unstable and operated by commercial vendors whose priorities are more aligned to profit than working for the good of the sector.
As a shared service and a trusted partner, Jisc responds to your needs now and develops technology for the future in consultation with members.
Rather than dealing purely with Jisc, you will need to invest significant time and effort in procuring and managing multiple contracts with a variety of other organisations to gain services for digital content and learning resources, wifi solutions, IP addressing, router services, consultancy, and many others.
What’s so special about Jisc’s Janet Network and cyber security protection?
The Janet Network is tailored to the needs of the education and research sector, so it is super-fast and can carry enormous amounts of data, enabling learning and collaboration nationally and internationally.
Serving around 18 million users, Janet is the busiest NREN in Europe and its in-built cyber security protection means it is also one of the most secure networks in the world.
No other internet service provider (ISP) includes DDoS attack mitigation as standard. DDoS attacks (designed to bring down the network) are increasing for colleges, so this is an essential service if colleges are to avoid the disruption and financial and reputational damage associated with such an outage. Jisc is also the only organisation to provide a sector-wide security incident response service, which is also included in the core subscription.
Because Jisc protects the network that all members connect to, and we gather and freely share security intelligence to help defend education from cyber attacks, it's a safer place for everyone.
Why should I pay for services in the core that I am not using?
Connectivity (the network) and cyber security account for 87% of the subscription.
Other services in the core are chosen because they are most widely used by FE colleges, such as e-books, including maths and English GCSE text books.
If I choose not to subscribe to Jisc, can I still buy Jisc services?
Due to the nature of our funding model, we do not envisage offering the majority of core subscription services to non-members.
Our core cyber security offer is not available without a Janet connection, for example, and only members can benefit from Jisc Collections negotiations, including access to e-books for FE, and to our expert advice and practical technology assistance.
What has Jisc done to reduce the impact of subscription?
Our funding has been reduced by £10m over the five years to 2019, and we have already absorbed over £4m in efficiency savings.
For example, we are reducing our office overheads, and continue to look for further efficiencies as we move forward.
DfE only funds a main connection to the Janet Network of 100Mb/s, but most colleges choose to invest in a connection up to ten times bigger at 1Gb/s.
From August 2019, we will provide the first 1Gb/s for free, at a cost to ourselves of £750k pa.
A recent VAT ruling from HMRC means we can reclaim VAT on our costs when we charge a subscription and will share with FE members in England some of that saving, which amounts to around £1m each year. And, although we will be charging VAT on subscriptions and other optional services, we will absorb that cost so there is no adverse impact on colleges.
As a result of these changes, the average subscription rate will be around 0.07% of college income, rather than the 0.085% we originally estimated. Some colleges will actually pay us less from August 2019 than they do today.
Why do colleges need Jisc’s digital content and resources when there are so many free alternatives?
We recognise there is a lot of free content available for colleges to choose from. Therefore, the majority of the digital resources provided by Jisc are optional and not part of the subscription.
However, we also recognise there are key text books which colleges require to support their courses, such as GCSE English and maths text books vital for learners resitting these subjects. Through our sector-wide negotiations, Jisc has been able to broker a significant reduction in the cost of e-book titles and to change the publishers licensing model.
This means, as part of the subscription, Jisc is able to provide unlimited concurrent access to all the e-book for FE titles (which are constantly refreshed in consultation with members) for all college learners.
Won’t subscription force colleges to cut back on Jisc services?
Education minister Anne Milton told Parliament that a mixed funding model for English FE colleges will encourage them “to make use of the full range of services that Jisc provides”.
Certainly, this was exactly the outcome when a subscription was first introduced for higher education (HE) in 2012. And all universities chose to pay the subscription and stay with Jisc.
Our account managers are working with individual members to review the elements of Jisc’s offer they currently use and to determine where better value can be had from our services. We are already hearing of colleges which are making better use of some of the services they get from Jisc, such as e-books.
Finally, we know the subscription is a burden that colleges could do without, but we sincerely believe the sector will be better off if it sticks together.