Further and Higher Education ICT Strategy – summary and reflections

ETA Many thanks to David Beards of SFC for pointing out that although this strategy is available from the SFC website, it is not an SFC publication. It was produced by the Sector Oversight Board; members of which are nominated by Universities Scotland and Colleges Scotland.

The Scottish Sector Oversight Board has recently published a new Further and Higher Education ICT Strategy in response to the McClelland Review of ICT Infrastructure in the Public Sector in Scotland. This post summarises the main points of the SFC ICT strategy and briefly reflects on the the focus of the strategy and the potential role of open source and open standards to enable the delivery of its objectives.

The primary aim of the strategy, which has been developed by the Further and Higher Education ICT Oversight Board, is to:

“…position Scotland, not only as one of the best educators in the world, but one of the most modern and efficient practitioners of education supported and enhanced by technology. It will achieve this through minimizing and eliminating wasteful and duplicated spend, while striving for sustained and efficient investment in education infrastructure and systems to support learning and research.”

In order to achieve these aims, the strategy identifies four strategic theme areas and five strategic objectives as follows:

Strategic Theme Areas

  • Infrastructure: networks, data centres, shared physical facilities.
  • Governance and management: oversight boards, implementation groups, project management, procurement and partnership and relationship building, staff development, service level agreements, communication strategies.
  • Shared services, applications and service models.
  • New technologies and innovation: the future landscape for infrastructure, applications and services.

Strategic Objectives

  1. Benchmark and baseline sectoral performance.
    Using international comparisons where relevant, and drawing on expert input from Jisc and UCISA. Identify KPIs, leading practice and “best of breed” approaches.
  2. Agree an evidence-based set of sectoral targets.
    Review and revise the roadmap set out by HEIDS Shared IT Services Study report. Shared datacentre provision has already been identified as a particular priority.
  3. Review the ‘data landscape’, in the sector, with a view to rationalisation / better management of student and course data.
    Work with merging colleges to implement consolidated MIS systems, with a longer-term aim of scoping a more efficient national student data system and moving to a single data collection system for generating reports for SFC.
  4. Develop the sector’s capability to develop and adopt shared services, including developing and capitalising on staff expertise.
    Form a new shared services cost-sharing body, owned by Scotland’s colleges and universities, within an existing organisation, with which institutions can contract for shared services. Continue to work with representative bodies of IT professionals in the HE and FE sectors.
  5. Improve value for money from procurement and operation of network infrastructure.
    Contribute to the JANET6 backbone procurement and participate in the Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) project to achieve better value for money through wider sharing of regional network infrastructure.

Once the sectoral baseline has been established, service improvement will be measured from the following perspectives: financial, customers, business processes, learning and growth. An “engagement framework” will be developed to ensure all stakeholders feel ownership of the process of change.

The strategy also proposes the development of a national website that will act as a single point of entry for the delivery of Scottish public services including, where appropriate, further and higher education services with links to relevant national bodies including UCAS, SQA and institutional websites.

Annex A of the strategy identifies key organisations and their roles, including Jisc:

Jisc will continue to deliver large parts of the McClelland agenda, including collaborative procurement, national services like authentication & security and the promotion of common standards.
….
Jisc helps foster best practice and efficiency in the use of innovative technology. Its carefully targeted research projects and reports make existing systems work better and help Scottish and UK institutions plan for the future. Jisc adds further value by encouraging and enabling a culture of sharing.

Reflection and Comments

It’s encouraging to note that one of the key principals of the McClelland Review, which is highlighted by the strategy, is “the adoption of agreed technical standards, protocols and security arrangements where these clearly add value.” And it’s even more encouraging to see SFC acknowledging that Jisc will be a key organisation with a role in delivering the McClelland agenda. However despite the fact that the strategy is clearly focused on cross sector collaborative development, facilitating greater integration of shared services and encouraging the adoption of institutional strategies to avoid technology lock in, the importance of open standards to enable the delivery of these objectives is not made explicit. Furthermore there is no reference to the key role that open source solutions can play in delivering efficiency gains and furthering sustainable collaborative development across the public sector.

The strategy also states that it aims to:

“…improve the quality of services and enhance the learner experience; but there is also an explicit focus on efficiency gains from more co-ordinated procurement and deployment of ICT resources.”

While more strategic and coordinated procurement and deployment of ICT does indeed have the potential to deliver real gains across the sector, I would suggest that the strategy is focused more on the procurement and deployment of ICT than on enhancing the learner experience. I can’t help feeling that the sector would benefit from a companion strategy outlining how the achievement of SFC’s shared vision of ICT provision will deliver tangible benefits to teachers and learners across the Scottish higher and further education sector. It is by bringing these two aspects of the strategy together and giving them equal priority that SFC can deliver their vision of positioning Scotland as:

“…not only one of the best educators in the world, but one of the most modern and efficient practitioners of education supported and enhanced by technology.”

6 thoughts on “Further and Higher Education ICT Strategy – summary and reflections

  1. Lorna’s right that the strategy is about efficiencies from procurement and deployment rather than learning and teaching issues. That reflects its origins in the McClelland review.

    Just to be clear, it is not an SFC publication. It was produced by the Sector Oversight Board; the Board members are nominated by Universities Scotland and Colleges Scotland.

    In terms of a ‘companion piece’, SFC views ‘elearning’ as an issue of quality enhancement, and I would look to the work of the HE Academy and QAA Scotland for views on L&T practice rather than from a technology strategy. Having said that, SFC did participate in the Online Learning Task Force (2011), which I think was the most recent policy work on learning technology by the funding bodies.

  2. Pingback: What I’ve starred this month: April 28, 2013 Jisc CETIS MASHe

  3. Absolutely agree with you about the lack of clarity on the importance of open standards and the role of open source. A missed opportunity and a bit disappointing given the digital strategies that have been emerging from the Cabinet Office and public sector south of the border have open technologies at the heart of them.

  4. Hi David,

    Many thanks for your comments and for clarifying the authorship of this strategy. I’ll edit this post to make that clear.

    Also could you point me in the direction of any of the outputs of the Online Learning Task Force?

  5. Hi David,

    Thanks for the link to the HEFCE “Collaborate to Compete” paper. I remember reading that when it was published but it’s a while since I’ve looked at it. Seems like now would be a good time to revisit it! Does the OTLF report also still inform SFC’s strategy or is this outwith SFC’s remit?

    Thanks again

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