Is IT and Education on a collision course?

The education sector is going through some tumultuous changes at the moment from the K12 market to FE and beyond. Schools are becoming academies, colleges are morphing into super colleges and universities are focused on how they can keep hold of the Research and IP that is generated by their students.

Add into the mix the prediction of a downturn in industry and commerce, the pressure being exerted by central government to reduce the overall funding for education, and the post Brexit worries that overseas’ students will dry up and you have a heady mix of fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Many colleges are starting to slim down or remove courses to trim out of the budget any subjects that are either not getting the enrolments or becoming too expensive to run. As the market shrinks, each college begins to pick off students from another college’s catchment, exasperating the problem further still. Have you seen this happening already? I have.

The K12 sector, is taking a hard look at the operational challenges they face as the current government continues to push them down the road of academies entering them into a whole raft of new targets and benchmarks to achieve with an ever dwindling funding round.

Doing more for less has been the case for some time in the health sector which is in suitable disarray with long waiting times and nearly every NHS trust in deficit. This now seems to be the new order of the day for our education sector. I for one think increasingly shrinking the Education budget is madness, and will only lead to the complete privatisation of the critical parts of the Education sector while all other areas will be left to wither and die. The access to education, and importantly further education, vocational or otherwise will become harder to find as skilled lecturers and tutors leave the profession disillusioned with how their beliefs and principles have been eroded -  sound familiar?

I’m not making any political statement here, I’m just looking inwardly and stating the obvious, taking into account some of the conversations and feedback I have personally had from people in this sector.

On the other hand, pushing organisations into reinventing themselves to push the boundaries of innovation and to make the very best use of emerging technology as part of the holistic educational journey is vitally important. It could be said that the government funding round is cleverly designed to chaperone these institutions into this essential reinvention because too many times I have seen a school or college wasting money, making completely the wrong technology decisions because they don’t have a coherent IT strategy or they don’t value IT and have a make do and mend approach. The conscience of both poorly conceived strategies is that inevitably larger IT refreshes are required that are more costly and risky and cannot be justified in terms of the cost V benefit to the student experience and delivery of a curriculum.

One person that I know and who has consistently delivered and is a great example of how it is possible to get the best out of their budget is Jamie Smith, Director of Strategy & Infrastructure at South Staffordshire College. My experience in working with Jamie is that firstly, he is passionate about IT and its use in Education, and secondly, he has taken time to understand IT and solutions that fit an Educational context, even if they are not being used in education at the time.

Lesson one, if you don’t understand where you’re heading, make sure that’s the first thing you do. Don’t leave it to fait or luck, make sure you understand what you need and the limitations in the technology. Lesson two, turn your IT requirements into your business objective and then map the solutions around these. Don’t try to make your educational business needs fit the solution.

A great example is the use of the big worldwide cloud players such as Microsoft and Google who has offered low or free licensing to the education sector for some time and who now have a huge population for students using their technology. The Google classroom project has gone from 0 to 60 million users in just three years. Check out Jamie Smith’s blog on “Roads where we’re going we don’t need roads at: http://www.vissensa.com/digital-road-jamie-smith-guest-blog/

By embracing these new routes to deployment rather than designing and building your own infrastructure, you can significantly enhance the student experience and save a major amount of your IT and staffing budget. The delivery of the curriculum becomes available to a wider audience and the teaching aids, reporting and analytics available to staff, improve the management and oversite of course delivery and saves them time while creating a better student experience.

The net result of the adoption of these cloud platforms by the education sector is establishing a new breed of software vendors who are emerging to meet the new requirements. These Vendors are allowing the school or college to take control of how a curriculum is delivered, to whom it’s delivered and where it is delivered in a classroom without boundaries. The software also provides an essential management platform for lectures to control logging on, authenticating as a student, module control and tests and exams completion. These new software solutions also provide the control, protection and analysis that enables a constant feedback ensuring the dangers of distance learning such a plagiarism can be thwarted.

The challenge for these new vendors is how they model their revenue streams to how the sector now sees their revenue stream. Shared risk and shared ownership of the problem will be the order of the day. A very new concept for many VC or shareholder indebted vendors, but a business model that will begin to emerge where the vendor will take a slice of the savings, not a licence fee. So essentially free software at the point of use.  Reducing the cost of technology acquisition in schools and colleges is not a nice to have but a critical activity, essential if they are to stay in business or resist being subsumed by larger colleges and which for the software industry will turn the procurement of educational products on its head.

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