A new report highlights the key challenges in digital infrastructure being faced by further education providers.
New research has highlighted the extensive risks associated with long-term under-investment in IT and digital infrastructure, throughout the UK further education and skills (FES) sectors.
The research is published as part of Jisc's IT infrastructure review report. It uses data collected between 2016 and 2020 from more than 100 college infrastructure reviews. The findings show that many colleges are struggling with old equipment that is not fit for purpose, poor connectivity, and a lack of skilled IT staff, all of which are barriers to providing a secure 21st century education.
Many of the challenges around infrastructure and devices in FE are down to funding, with the report highlighting ‘a large number of out-of-date core infrastructure systems continuing in use beyond their manufacturer or vendor end-of-support dates.’
Robin Ghurbhurun, Jisc’s managing director of further education and skills, comments:
“The government’s announcement on 19 August that it had released £200m for 180 colleges to spend on physical and digital infrastructure is welcome, but it is not enough to solve the underlying digital challenges caused by years of under-investment.”
Internet connectivity is the one of the "most serious single points of failure" in a college’s IT infrastructure, the report reveals. This is largely due to the increased use of software as a service (SaaS), and is an important concern since most FE providers have moved to cloud-based SaaS systems for calendars and email.
However, in the majority of colleges that have a primary Janet connection, there is sufficient bandwidth to meet needs, and upgrades are recommended for the minority of colleges that have below a 1Gb connection.
The shortage of IT support staff is also a concern for the sector. The reports says: "The average IT-support-staff-to-supported-users ratio in general FE colleges now stands at 814:1, this is a substantial rise, and is in our view too high to ensure a good quality IT organisation."
"In the majority of colleges, an IT skills shortage of some kind is reported, often as recent technical training has not been undertaken by IT teams"
However, the report also recognises the positive impact that existing IT teams have on FE, noting "a large number of highly talented and dedicated IT professionals […] who are most certainly a credit to the sector."
The good news
Improvements are possible, and some colleges are already in a good position. The report says: "Where organisations have a CTO, CIO or similar senior role, they are able to embed technology and improved organisation-wide decision making to make a positive difference to service delivery."
“With leadership, resource and careful planning, colleges have shown they can position themselves at the leading edge and deliver future-proofed education and skills.”