Seven questions were discussed in a telephone survey with one in 10 colleges in England, Scotland and Wales, representative of the sector as a whole.
We did not want to duplicate detailed studies of purchasing intentions, such as that conducted by Research Machines (RM) this spring. Nor did we want to update computer administration surveys.
We asked: 1 What is the college policystrategy? And how has it changed since incorporation?
2 What is the annual spend on IT? Is it set to grow?
3 How is IT changing FE?
4 Has there been a shift of funds with changing priorities? If so, what are the changes and have there been savings?
5 What are your priorities? Do they conflict with the FEFC?
6 Which IT developments do you have? Which are you planning?
7 What are the effects of IT on management and curriculum issues?
Subsidiary questions included inquiries about pump-priming and kick-start cash. The answers to these often revealed the most telling information. Moreover, contradictory evidence in relation to different questions drew out telling pictures of trends.
For example, in answering the first question on strategies, most principals and IT co-ordinators mentioned "staffing implications" and the need for training. But by question 5, respondents went much deeper into the issues of what their college could afford. It was here that the more detailed picture of staff training emerged.
Similarly with question 3 and how FE was being changed by computer technology, most managers gave a thorough and broad sweep through the range of technologies coming to bear on the lives of staff and students. But when it came to spelling out "particular development", the overall picture looked less ambitious.
Two notable developments involved students spending one-fifth of their time at home while working "at college" through computer links.
The other involved staff "home-working" and acting as tutors at a distance. In all instances, it was stressed that this work was experimental and in its early stages, although many managers saw this as becoming a "normal" way of working within the decade.