Chris Johnston reports on a pound;74 million scheme to link learning
technology throughout the sector ALL OF Britain's 433 colleges will be linked via a high-speed computer network that emulates the university link, in a pound;74 million three-year scheme.
About 200 colleges are already linked to the universities' Janet system, but the new network will allow all of them to harness the teaching and learning capabilities of information technology and widen participation
The scheme is outlined in the Networking lifelong learning: high-level action plan, which was this week endorsed by the Further Education Funding Council.
David Russell, the council's director of finance and corporate services, said funding would start to flow in the next few weeks. The money "to ensure that colleges are properly equipped for the computer age" was announced in November last year, but a strategy then had to be devised.
Issues such as ensuring colleges that had already spent significant sums on computer networks were not penalised for their headstart also had to be overcome.
Mr Russell said it was the first time a government had allocated capital funding to the sector for information and learning technology: "It's a tremendous opportunity."
Baroness Blackstone, the further and higher education minister, said at a conference in April that ILT - information and learning technology - was crucial to attracting more people to education and training while increasing student retention and achievement.
Each college will be given the same amount of funding. Mr Russell said it was important that the new funding added value and would aid what colleges already spent on IT provision.
Colleges not yet connected to Janet are likely to be first in the queue, although he said those without a good internal computer network would not be hooked up.
The sector-wide network is necessary if some colleges are to become learning hubs or centres for the University for Industry, and to increase the use of digital learning materials to be used by students.
Mr Russell said the network will be as fast as possible to allow the most sophisticated programmes to be used by students.
Although there were no plans to fund equipment purchases, Mr Russell said it was clear that to make a breakthrough in this area colleges that had a high number of students per computer would need to buy more.
"Draft Guidelines on the production of an information and learning technology strategy for further education colleges" can be read at http:ferl.becta.org.ukframesiltstrategy.html