It seemed a straightforward enough equation – when the Department for Education declared earlier this year that it would reduce the funding for Jisc, working out how that shortfall would be made up did not take long. The organisation would adopt a “mixed funding model”, it was announced, where colleges would simply pay a subscription fee and continue to receive the service they currently get from Jisc.
This would see the “majority of colleges” pay in the region of £20,000 a year for the services they currently get for free – although large college groups could potentially face annual subscription bills of more than £100,000. Getting a subscription was important, Jisc was quick to stress, because its services, among other things, protect colleges from cyber attacks.
Both the number of colleges being hit and the frequency of attacks are on the rise, according to Jisc figures reported in Tes in May, with an average of 12 distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks per week against colleges in the UK in the first three months of this year. A quarter of colleges suffered a DDoS attack last year, according to Jisc, and its chief executive, Paul Feldman, said the security the company offered meant that colleges were among the best-protected of any UK business or industrial sector. “To our members, we are the fourth emergency service,” he said at the time.
Is Jisc indispensable?
But FErret has been hearing noises that not everyone feels Jisc is quite as indispensable. Even back in May, Collab chief executive Ian Pretty said Jisc services were never provided "free", but had instead been paid for via a block grant from government. The new subscription model would “disproportionately hit Collab Group members”, which include some of the country’s largest college groups. FErret has heard that they could be asked to plug as much as 20 per cent of Jisc’s funding hole.
And the situation is heating up, FErret understands, with colleges being approached by Jisc asking them to sign a letter committing to remaining with Jisc services for 2019-20 and to not swap provider. Apparently, colleges feel they ought to agree as opting out of the service would increase costs for other providers, so the gossip goes.
And in the most recent turn of events, FErret understands Collab has now had the green light from members to prepare for a possible tender later in the year. The purpose of this, so FErret is being told, is to ensure the service colleges will end up paying for is exactly what the colleges need. But, of course, Jisc will be able to bid in a possible tender process, giving it the opportunity to hold on to their customers after all.