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Guaranteed IT standards planned for all students;FE Focus

ALL college students will be guaranteed minimum information technology standards under plans being drawn up by the Further Education Funding Council. It is part of a pound;74 million Government drive to improve computer courses in colleges.

Common entitlement is likely to include an e-mail address, Internet access and a maximum number of students per computer. No date has been set for the publication of the targets, which will come into force in 2002.

Currently there is an average of around 40 students to every computer. And although this varies across the country, only 40 per cent of computers are up to date. The vast majority of the PCs are not Internet-compatible.

As part of the strategy to improve computer use in colleges, the further education sector is set to join JANET, the academic information technology network which links universities. The move was agreed at a meeting last week between the heads of the further and higher education funding councils. Funding will come from central budgets.

The FEFC will invest pound;10m to connect colleges to the network. And nine regional support centres will be set up to assist the connection and provide staff training.

Currently only around 200 colleges have the necessary hardware and a significant number of these will need upgrades.

FEFC chief executive David Melville, at a Department for Education and Employment conference this week on "Working together to create the learning society", said: "This will provide the plumbing for distance learning. JANET has huge clout in buying resources and will reduce individual costs to colleges."

The network would provide colleges with high-speed connections to the Internet and help spread innovative learning materials.

The collaboration could herald closer co-operation between higher and further education. In the future students could choose distance-learning courses by "pick and mix" from a range of FE and higher education institutions, said Mr Melville.

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