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  • Gravity Assist report - this is the higher education sector’s moment to learn, change and innovate
    As Sir Michael Barber, chair of the Office for Students, publishes his review of digital teaching and learning, here are my thoughts on the potential impact of its recommendations on post-pandemic higher education.  As lockdown policies ease, institutions and individuals dare to imagine what the future might look like. I am sure I’m not the only one dreaming of a world with fewer restrictions, where I can hug my grandson, enjoy a meal out with friends, and travel to the office to see colleagues in person without a second thought. What might our higher education (HE) students want in this post-pandemic world? And what might we want for them?Despite the challenges our sector faces, in order to provide a student experience that is fit for our times, we must seize the moment to innovate, learn lessons, and embrace change.   [#pullquote#]we must seize the moment to innovate, learn lessons, and embrace change[#endpullquote#]Flexible, inclusive and student-ledThat’s why today, I welcome the Office for Students’ review of digital education. Led by Sir Michael Barber, the report’s findings and recommendations reflect those of the separate learning and teaching reimagined report, which the HE sector produced last autumn, looking at the short, medium and long-term impact of the move online and how to get the best out of it. Both reports highlight the importance of identifying how changes forced by the COVID crisis might stimulate a rethink of curricula and a student-led appraisal of technology in teaching. Learners contributing to both reviews also expressed a desire for more modular and flexible learning, with students and university leaders recognising the clear benefits of online delivery that reflects the realities of living and working today. Sir Michael Barber’s report, Gravity Assist: propelling higher education towards a brighter future, looks at the digital approaches universities have embraced over the past year. It reflects on how these can, have and might continue to benefit all students, be they school-leavers or mature learners, studying full- or part-time, at distance or on campus, disabled, disadvantaged. [#pullquote#]I see elements of technology-enabled education that can support all, irrespective of background and circumstance[#endpullquote#]I see elements of technology-enabled education that can support all, irrespective of background and circumstance. One advantage of moving teaching and learning to a hybrid approach and forcing a rethink is that it may have helped level the playing field for some.  Risks and opportunitiesThe report findings aren’t universally positive. Although hardly surprising, it is disappointing to acknowledge the gaps in provision that emerged for some diverse students – particularly through the initial ‘emergency phase’ of universities’ COVID response. Yet we are all keen to capture good out of these times and ensure that the technology-enhanced teaching we’re all embracing is inclusive. More broadly, I’m delighted that Gravity Assist and the learning and teaching reimagined report are largely aligned in their vision for the HE sector. A shared future vision is developing where self-directed, motivated students work to gather knowledge, and tutors and lecturers impart wisdom.[#pullquote#]A shared future vision is developing where self-directed, motivated students work to gather knowledge, and tutors and lecturers impart wisdom.[#endpullquote#]This is a fundamental shift from teaching to learning, and there are other inevitable and positive shifts for sector to adapt to with the introduction of the government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee. This will offer adults and young people the choice to study throughout their life, taking high-quality, vocational courses that are geared towards the world of work, focusing on careers that have been revolutionised by technology. Technology takes a central roleThere is much to think about as we shape and refine this vision together. The need to strengthen staff and students’ digital skills is a key area highlighted in today’s review, and I am excited to see technology - from machine learning to immersive experiences created with artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality - taking a central role in delivering education and also thoughtful considerations on what is needed technically to support our diverse student population.It’s an exciting time. But there are practical considerations too, not least cost. How will institutions afford to create the new learning content we need, ensuring it’s accessible and engaging for all? Who pays? Then there’s the thorny issue of assessments, which has been widely discussed in the media throughout the pandemic, and has caused significant stress for many students. We know that remote exams and assessments are fraught with difficulty, and we are seeing a number of issues, not least the risk of cheating.  Now is the time to consider our mechanisms for managing this, rethinking the future of assessmentJisc report: The future of assessment: five principles, five targets for 2025 https://www.jisc.ac.uk/reports/the-future-of-assessment.  The recommendations of Gravity Assist have the potential to open up new opportunities, while also flagging potential pitfalls and hurdles for the sector to overcome. Through collaboration, and with further investment in advanced technologies, I believe we can seize the lessons of 2020, building a visionary, engaging Education 4.0 that delivers for all students, supports staff, and transforms our institutions.[#pullquote#]We don’t have the option of doing what we’ve always done, but we do have the option of doing what we never thought we would[#endpullquote#]We don’t have the option of doing what we’ve always done, but we do have the option of doing what we never thought we would – and we can start living that vison of the future now. 
  • Rewriting the library in digital space
    The concept of the library is changing. Libraries are symbolic representations of the wider university, with legacy links to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, but also as important social hubs for learners and staff alike. They are a testament to university legacy but also a vivid illustration of a future vision.  Since lockdown began in March 2020, the library at De Montfort University has been something of a refuge for students – acting as that essential ‘third space’, alongside homes or dorm rooms, and screens. It is the only building on campus that’s currently open, and as such is also taking on a new significance in symbolising the university as a whole.  Embracing multimedia But it is the increase in and diversification of digital interactions that have changed the library concept most.  [#pullquote#]It is the increase in and diversification of digital interactions that have changed the library concept most. [#endpullquote#]Firstly, with study materials. Reading lists are no longer just texts. The demand for multimedia reading lists has grown, accelerated through lockdown, so now they include different kinds of content, like video and podcasts, to engage varying types of learning needs. However, this requires careful consideration as we’re living through a time of digital sensory overload. Learners are engaging with digital materials constantly, whether that’s Zoom calls with a tutor, finding resources for an essay online, or keeping up with friends and family. That, coupled with a sense of real-world sensory deprivation, is a very fine line to tread. Human interaction feels particularly precious for everyone right now, and this is where the library as a social space comes in.  A multitude of worlds Libraries remain important as physical spaces on the university campus, especially when most – if not all – other buildings are closed. But their social role in the digital space has also thrown up both challenges and opportunities to revisit the concept of the university library.  The library at De Montfort has always been a very busy and popular place. We often had up to 11,000 visits a day, which is roughly as many as the V&A museum, to put it in perspective. Of course, replicating that space online is very challenging. We have had to make sure to consistently update and refine websites, and in some cases rethink entirely how we might design them. [#pullquote#]One of the biggest questions we’re addressing at the moment, is ‘what does it mean to have a library website?’ and considering how we can go about making the digital destination as talismanic, as symbolic, as the physical library. [#endpullquote#]One of the biggest questions we’re addressing at the moment, is ‘what does it mean to have a library website?’ and considering how we can go about making the digital destination as talismanic, as symbolic, as the physical library.A library contains multiple worlds, and as such when trying to replicate or transpose its meaning and function into a digital space, it’s almost functioning as a hypertext – both a consistently rewriteable, iterative thing, and a link to another world, if you like. This provides us the opportunity to reinvent and reconsider how learners interact with the space, without having to physically recreate an actual building. Adapting and thriving Libraries have always been adaptable, early adopters of technology – from the early days of private collections to the advent of technologies such as microfiche, they adapt to the context in which they operate. [#pullquote#]The incorporation of digital technologies is just another chapter in the story. Whatever the context, a library is a space for people to come together with the common object of learning.[#endpullquote#]The incorporation of digital technologies is just another chapter in the story. Whatever the context, a library is a space for people to come together with the common object of learning. It’s a place for people to be alone together, and engage with materials that will enhance their learning journey – whether they’re physical or digital materials, or conversations with other people.  There is much more to learn about how the library might inhabit the digital space in five, ten, 50 years, but despite its obvious downsides, lockdown has afforded us the opportunity to at least start to explore it. Library staff are magnificently knowledgeable; they have adapted quickly and efficiently to deliver their expertise and library resources online. I’m excited to see what the future might hold.  To hear more about digital innovation in libraries, sign up for David’s Digifest session, where he will be discussing evolving digital behaviours and the vital role of the physical library space. Digifest 2021 is free for Jisc member organisations. Register your place by Friday 26 February 2021.  
  • I’m always looking for better ways to make identity and access management seamless
    Anjanesh Babu has led the development and implementation of a unified identity and access management (IAM) strategy within the University of Oxford’s Gardens and Museums (GLAM). He says the research and development has occasionally been painful, but the results are worth it – especially so when the technology is invisible to users. With multiple digital projects in flight and a cloud-only approach, looking after identity and access management requirements across a hybrid platform is far from straightforward.We want all our users to gain frictionless access to secure resources hosted on various platforms. The users may be accessing diverse applications like infrastructure access tooling, password managers, digital collections management systems (CMS) or digital asset management systems (AMS). These services straddle all locations – from being on-premise, to cloud-hosted, to vendor-managed software as a service (SaaS).[#pullquote#]We want all our users to gain frictionless access to secure resources hosted on various platforms.[#endpullquote#]This creates a big challenge, especially as the university’s staff can be using public networks. We must be able to allow people to assume digital identities easily and have a reliable mechanism to manage the user journey. So, I started looking into ways to develop a centralised identity and access management infrastructure within GLAM, drawing on the university’s main user directory as the single source of truth but creating our own layer that would effectively proxy requests across from the web app to the university’s Azure tenancy while applying conditional logic when required.For the last four years we’ve been on a journey to implement our own strategy and we’ve learned something with every step. For example:You need to allocate budget and time to innovation and test-bedding potential solutionsNow is a good time to be starting out. COVID-19 has disrupted so much, but it has created opportunities for anyone working on an identity and access management strategy.[#pullquote#]COVID-19 has disrupted so much, but it has created opportunities for anyone working on an identity and access management strategy.[#endpullquote#]With people learning and carrying out research in their own homes it is more important than ever for education organisations to recognise and grant access to individuals around the world. These issues are high on senior management agendas and more resources may be available to develop identity and access management processes.Development budgets may stretch further than you think. When we started our journey, we conducted pilots with several public cloud-based platforms, including our eventual choice, AWS. All the platforms were happy to provide some funding as we worked out which was the best fit for us. It’s worth reaching out to your cloud service provider’s account manager for onboarding and pre-sales advice.You should always know where to find the ‘undo’ buttonFrom the start we wanted multifactor authentication (MFA) for extra security, and initially in 2018 we procured Duo, which worked seamlessly as a drop-in MFA service with eduroam and other authentication sources at the time. However, we are led by central university strategy and the university had adopted Microsoft 365. This was a major turning point for us because every 365 user gets an Azure identity and I realised this offers us an effective way to manage identity securely within GLAM, so we experimented with our own tenancy.The university centrally manages the core directory and the main Azure/Office 365 tenancy, and we can easily invite staff into our divisional Azure active directory for our own authentication services. Using this system, identity management between GLAM and the rest of the University of Oxford is seamless, secure and our Azure Active Directory runs at far lower cost than an on-premise equivalent. I settled on a standards-based  SAML  approach to support login across various applications. The first successful solution integration using this approach was integrating our AWS Console login with Azure Active Directory – this was completed in June 2019 and the outcome would set the scene for the rest of our journey.[#pullquote#]Select platforms that meet your needs, make sure you’re not overly reliant on a particular supplier or platform, and make sure you can pivot easily if you find something that suits your needs better.[#endpullquote#]It’s always worth keeping an eye on emerging solutions and talking to existing and potential new suppliers, here and overseas. Select platforms that meet your needs, make sure you’re not overly reliant on a particular supplier or platform, and make sure you can pivot easily if you find something that suits your needs better.Simple logic makes identity management more efficientAs important as identity checks are, it’s always smart to focus your efforts where the risk is greatest. Our system applies logic to decide if we can simply trust a person’s accredited ID or we should explore a bit deeper. For example, a recognised user ID being presented from a verified IP address (eg the VPN range) in the UK during a normal working day may not pose much risk, while others may need several additional checks to be carried out.Identity and access management processes must be sustainableMost organisations have their own particular issues. For example, at GLAM we have difficulties around consistency – our users’ identities don’t follow a single format. We deal with this by using email addresses at the application level, meaning they are one step removed from the actual user directory so we can transform the outgoing attribute to suit the application on the fly. Sustainability also extends to skills – we provide context-specific technical walkthroughs in addition to the standard Azure training. It will be an ongoing requirement to keep existing staff up to date and to get new joiners up to speed so our access management continues to work well.[#pullquote#]Every step has taught us something and underlined how valuable it is to take careful, reversible steps.[#endpullquote#]Our implementation has gone really well, even though it has sometimes been tricky. Could we have done it faster? With hindsight – probably. But every step has taught us something and underlined how valuable it is to take careful, reversible steps and develop a firm handle on fundamental technologies like active directory, even if everything is being handled securely in the cloud. This allows you to stay in control.Don’t miss Anjanesh's session on shaping an identity and access management strategy on day one of Networkshop49. Networkshop49 is an online event running from 27–29 April 2021 and is free for Jisc member organisations.
  • The secret lives of students
    How well do you know your learners? With backing from Jisc, staff at the Open University co-designed a ‘learning journey’ tool that enables institutions to better understand and support their students. Kate Lister, manager for accessibility and inclusion, explains how it works. There's a huge need for wellbeing support tools at the moment. Many students are struggling, and staff want to provide meaningful support.At the Open University (OU), we’ve been working to create online communities and evaluate students at distance for years - and COVID-19 has forced other universities to do the same. Now, everyone needs tools to help navigate these things. It’s a very different world we’re in.An epic journeyLearning analytics can be incredibly helpful in spotting changes in student behaviour and prompting staff to reach out. But while such data might show, for example, that a student dropped out of a module but did really well on their return, it wouldn’t explain why. So, in 2016, my colleague Tim Coughlan and I started working with students, stakeholders and software developers at the OU to create an online tool to help us understand more about students’ experiences beyond the university grounds.It started at a summer programme for disabled students. We wanted to find out what was working well for those learners at university, what wasn’t, and what they would like to change. The point that came up again and again was how incredibly diverse their experiences and circumstances were, and how that wasn't visible to their institution. We wanted to find a way to help students represent their own journey and share it, either in an official capacity to university leaders, or informally with tutors, mentors or anybody else.[#pullquote#]We wanted to find a way to help students represent their own journey and share it[#endpullquote#]Designed through dialogueGoing to university is much more than just an academic experience, so the concept of keeping a journal to document that period of time made sense. The tool we developed recognises that going to university is a formative part of a students’ life, similar to an epic journey. It enables students to talk about anything – whether that’s family problems or breakups or issues with study.It’s a simple design. Students create cards to represent phases of their ‘journey’ – registration, for example. Each individual chooses how many cards they want, and decides what each card represents. They add emojis to show how they’re feeling, and there’s space to write notes. They don't have to log something every week or every month, they just do as much or as little as they want.Impact for allThe design process started with disabled students, but it soon became apparent that this tool would be useful for all students, and that there is a strong wellbeing aspect because, as learners fill in their journeys, they reflect on them, celebrate their achievements, and look at the struggles and obstacles they face.[#pullquote#]as learners fill in their journeys, they reflect on them, celebrate their achievements, and look at the struggles and obstacles they face.[#endpullquote#]We saw how good it was for students’ emotional awareness and personal development, and we knew the tool would support institutions too. In 2019, Jisc supported us with funding to turn it into an online tool.Staff benefitsAt the OU, this tool gives us insight into our learners’ experiences. It allows members of staff to see their students’ journeys and create bespoke experiences for them - so if a tutor is interested in how a cohort’s first placement went, she can push that out as a prompt and see what her students are feeling and thinking. That might help her tailor sessions or plan modules. She can also go to individual student journeys, and that might prompt her to offer additional support.This isn’t about casting educators as counsellors though – it just gives everyone permission to recognise that things that go on in a students’ life around university that may impact on their performance or their attitude to learning. It shows the institution cares, and studies have shown that is important to students.[#pullquote#]It shows the institution cares, and studies have shown that is important to students.[#endpullquote#]A success storyI am really aware of the value of enhancing institutions’ understanding of their students right now, and the importance of supporting student and staff wellbeing. I’m really proud that our online tool is helpful in doing that, and the main reason for its success is that it’s something students want to use. They engage with it, wherever and however they are studying. One student was doing it in prison. One was doing it through cancer treatment. Another found it helped her get through a bereavement.Their journeys are just incredible, and they open institutions’ eyes to the secret lives of students beyond the campus perimeter. Jisc’s wellbeing page has guides, events, reports, and examples of effective practice, and members can register free to attend Digifest, 8-11 March, to explore ways in which technology can support staff and students.
  • Can a digital management tool encourage best practice in research?
    How the introduction of new digital infrastructure is improving research culture. Since taking office in January, US President Joe Biden has reaffirmed a national commitment to integrity in scholarship and research, appointing scientists to numerous leadership roles.  A growing number of UK universities are also on a path to support greater intellectual integrity in research and science and recognise that it will take the combined effort of students, teachers and research leaders to instigate this cultural change.  At Derby, our research journey is developing rapidly, and our 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) submission will be significantly stronger than in previous years. This change is supported by the introduction of new research management tools which are fostering enhanced collaboration and best practice.One of those tools is ‘Ethics Monitor;’ a tool which digitises the ethics applications across the university. All research undertaken by staff and students associated with the University of Derby should only be  initiated after effective consideration of its ethical implications. Ethical standards in universities are the backbone of research integrity and this digital tool will help us embed appropriate practice.[#pullquote#]All research undertaken by staff and students associated with the University of Derby should only be  initiated after effective consideration of its ethical implications[#endpullquote#]Turning the page on paperOur old system was paper based, which was effective in the sense that applications were carefully considered, and we had a robust governance system in place, but, as with most paper-based systems, analysis on the data was almost impossible.The online Ethics Monitor makes our monitoring around ethics applications much more effective. Running cross-university statistical analyses now takes us about ten minutes, whereas before it would have taken us an entire day to go through files. The digitised process means that all the steps and considerations of an ethics application can be viewed by the research ethics committees.[#pullquote#]Running cross-university statistical analyses now takes us about ten minutes, whereas before it would have taken us an entire day to go through files[#endpullquote#]Grassroots approachIn the first year of implementing the ethics monitor, 2,000 submitted applications were approved. We started the project with a bit of ‘big bang’ and went digital overnight. This concerned some people, but our grassroots approach involving a cross-section of users in the design has helped us to successfully introduce the system.For each college, we appointed dedicated ethics ambassadors, who trained colleagues in how to use Ethics Monitor. So, we had psychologists training psychologists and biologists training biologists. It worked well as they speak the same language and come across similar ethical challenges.Pandemic proofThe advantage of an online system is that we have been able to maintain the ethics approval process in the university throughout the pandemic. We have also been able to support students and staff whose ethics applications had to be modified due to COVID-19. Our old, paper-based system would not have been accessible because our university, like so many others, had to close its doors.The use of Ethics Monitor is now part of our curriculum. It helps our students to learn about the concept of research, and not just in terms of statistics and methodology, but also in terms of governance and ethics.[#pullquote#][Ethics Monitor] helps our students to learn about the concept of research, and not just in terms of statistics and methodology, but also in terms of governance and ethics. [#endpullquote#]Most of our students will not go on to have a career as a researcher in a university, but we think that understanding ethics and governance is important for all students and will help shape the research culture. We see it as an important skill for researchers and an important transferrable life skill for students, no matter where they end up working.The introduction of Ethics Monitor is just one element of a raft of measures we are currently taking to create a more integrated, holistic approach to university research. It is not just about introducing new systems, but also about looking at how we can empower students and staff in the long run and support and share best practice.[#pullquote#]It is not just about introducing new systems, but also about looking at how we can empower students and staff in the long run[#endpullquote#]As a result of introducing our new digital system, we have seen a wave of interest in research ethics, bringing together people from across the university; that can only be a good thing.
  • Technology can help universities to support vulnerable students of all backgrounds
    Having dropped out of university because of loneliness and depression, Hayley Mulenda – a former speaker at Jisc’s annual Digifest event - says effective use of data analytics and greater diversity of academic staff are crucial in supporting students. My life spiralled out of control when I first went to university, back in 2015.Student mental health wasn’t an issue back then in the way it is now, so I tried to ignore what I was going through - and it got worse. I lost my appetite. I avoided talking to people. I jumped off all my social media platforms. I stopped going out. I wanted to shut down and quiet the noise in my head. That’s when suicidal thoughts started to creep in. I was in a dark place and I was frightened.All too commonWorryingly, among today’s undergraduates, experiences like mine are all too common. In March 2019, an online survey of almost 38,000 UK university students showed rising rates of psychological distress and illness, with “alarmingly high” levels of anxiety, loneliness, substance misuse and thoughts of self-harm.[#pullquote#]March 2019, an online survey of almost 38,000 UK university students showed rising rates of psychological distress and illness[#endpullquote#]For me, the move to university was my first away from home. Like almost nine in ten of the students polled, I struggled with feelings of anxiety. Like 33% of them, I was lonely. This was largely because, at the place where I went to study, it seemed to me that I was the only black girl, the only student from London, and one of just a few from a working-class background. I couldn’t relate to anyone - but because I’d previously given motivational talks as a public speaker at school, it felt like a failure that I couldn’t motivate myself. Things just unravelled.A call for greater diversitySo there needs to be greater diversity across the sector, and that goes for staff too. Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) figures published last February show that less than 1% of university professors are black and that ethnic minority academics are less likely to win research grants.Despite that, when it came to getting support as a student, I was one of the lucky ones. When I fell into that dark place, my family brought me home and, with their love and support, I came to recognise that I needed help. I set myself little milestones and trained myself into a new routine.[#pullquote#]We need to give greater support to young people as they transition from school – and that support needs to be more accessible and diverse[#endpullquote#]We need to give greater support to young people as they transition from school – and that support needs to be more accessible and diverse, and it needs to work at a practical level. If a university’s mental health support service is way across town, someone struggling with low self-esteem, who can’t even get down the corridor to have a shower, isn’t going to make it to an appointment.My mental health contact at university was an older, white man. He could have been the kindest person in the world, but I still couldn’t relate to him as a young black woman from East London. Leveraging technologyThere is also another way in which institutions can provide vital help.When I was suffering with my mental health, my attendance dropped and the university threatened to kick me off the course. Learners who aren’t engaging, who aren’t turning up to lectures, shouldn’t be threatened; they should be flagged up to professionals and supported.Fortunately, the technology to do that already exists: learning analytics pull data together to help institutions identify changes in students’ behaviour and see when they might be at risk of failing or dropping out. So, if a student who started the term going to the library a lot suddenly stops going, that’s something to check – to reach out, see if they’re OK, and provide any extra help they require. Jisc and the ICO have produced a code of practice for wellbeing and mental health analytics to support universities in doing this ethically, and with the input and permission of students.[#pullquote#]Using data carefully and supportively could be a game-changer.[#endpullquote#]I know that, for students who are struggling, timing is crucial. For me, the right person stepping in at the right time could have made all the difference. Using data carefully and supportively could be a game-changer.To learn more about supporting wellbeing with technology, register for Jisc's wellbeing events. For inspiring talks and debates on the future of education, attend Jisc’s immersive virtual event, Digifest 2021, 8-11 March 2021.
  • ‘It’s all about context’ - using data to co-design digital services
    How data can be used to fuel a collaborative co-design process for effective digital services.  Come together When it comes to understanding and improving student services, data can give us a lot of information. But it can’t tell us everything.We also need to be able to contextualise and interpret that data, using it as a starting point for more human investigation.[#pullquote#]Using a co-design model for service development can help support this dual approach to problem-solving.[#endpullquote#]Using a co-design model for service development can help support this dual approach to problem-solving.  Co-design is the idea of bringing people together to identify a challenge, then working together to solve it. Most organisations - including universities - have a lot of data silos, and these tend to be the biggest barrier to collaboration. It’s not that people don’t recognise that problems exist, but what you tend to get is a lack of shared agreement around what the problem actually is. For me, that’s what co-design is all about, to try and break down those barriers. This model also helps to focus different departments or staff members on the issue at hand, and how best to solve it.  Data for a shared understanding If data is siloed in different departments, the same data can be subject to different interpretations. For example, marketing may come to a different conclusion than the admissions team, so the response to that data is often varied.This can be beneficial, as diverse insight is valuable, but it can also dilute or fragment the overall response. This can make it difficult to create a cohesive response to an issue, or even to come to a decision on what the issue is in the first place, because you’ve got siloes of people responding to their interpretation of the challenge.[#pullquote#]What we want to encourage through co-design, is coming to an agreed identification of the issue, and then playing to the strengths of individual teams as part of a holistic response.[#endpullquote#]What we want to encourage through co-design, is coming to an agreed identification of the issue, and then playing to the strengths of individual teams as part of a holistic response. For example, recently, the university’s catering service found that regularly updating menus embedded in web pages was taking a lot of work and so they wanted to go back to using PDFs. But before making this change, we needed to understand what the impact would be on users. To test how we could best design the menus, we ran an experiment. We replaced a single menu with a PDF format and monitored how that resource performed, and how users interacted with it. The data showed a much lower engagement rate with that page, and an increase in bounce rates. This told us that users were either not clicking on the page at all, or if they were, they were exiting very quickly. In order to understand why this was happening, we spoke to student users, and as we predicted, they confirmed that the format of the page was impacting on their decision to use it.  [#pullquote#]data gave us a starting point for our investigation. It provided the groundwork for understanding what the issue was[#endpullquote#]In this instance, data gave us a starting point for our investigation. It provided the groundwork for understanding what the issue was - lack of engagement with a resource – and helped us ask the right questions of users to be able to solve the problem.  It’s all about context A lot of my work earlier on in my career was about educating people on interpreting and understanding data analytics. Because it’s very easy to make assumptions about people’s behaviour when engaging with a digital resource, such as a webpage. But in order to get a reliable understanding of what that behaviour means, a thorough understanding of the resource is also required.[#pullquote#]Context is essential to reliable analytics.[#endpullquote#]Context is essential to reliable analytics.  A great thing about co-design is that it allows space for this contextual education. When assessing how well a product or service is doing, the first step is usually to look at the data. This can provide a quantitative assessment of whether there’s a problem or not, but it can’t tell us why. It’s often possible to make a very well-informed guess based on the information provided by the data, but a lot of the time there are user behaviours that won’t be explainable through data.That’s where being able to understand analytics is essential. Part of this contextualising project is talking to students. So we can analyse quantitative data that shows us what resources are being used, when they are being used, etc, and then qualify this data by speaking to students. This helps us contextualise what we’re seeing and understand why these resources are being used this way. From there it’s a lot easier to understand what changes need to be made to the resource or its delivery.  This is particularly helpful for digital services, but the process can help inform non-digital services as well.The data gives us a starting point for this enquiry – it can tell us if there are problems or concerns, and where in the process or resource they are, but it’s then up to us as people to understand why. It’s very much a blended approach, and essentially it comes down to being humble enough to say, ‘I don’t know everything, and neither does the data,’ and work out a way to use both together, as a holistic approach to problem-solving.  Learn more about harnessing the power of your data.
  • Putting digital skills, content and connectivity at the heart of long-term plans for FE and skills
    While less revolutionary than we’d hoped for, with ambition clearly tempered by short-term fiscal settlements, the FE and skills white paper paints a progressive picture of the future for our sector, putting skills at the heart of our nation’s recovery.   In the frame are welcome improvements in infrastructure to enable better links with local economies, and an emphasis on cultivating the digital skills of learners and teachers alike. What’s lacking, however, is fine funding detail to give these broad brushstrokes tangible form. We will continue to push for that - to ensure that FE providers can keep pace with the digital evolution that the pandemic has finally kickstartedRead my previous blog post: 'Online learning is here to stay - so we must work out how to do it well - https://www.jisc.ac.uk/blog/online-learning-will-continue-so-we-must-do-it-better-11-jun-2020.   %5B#pullquote#%5DWhat’s lacking, however, is fine funding detail [...]. We will continue to push for that - to ensure that FE providers can keep pace with the digital evolution[#endpullquote#]Reflecting some of the aims of Jisc's FE and skills strategy and the final report from the Independent Commission on the College of the Future, the white paper fuels conversation for change. The policies, funding and plans that ensue must better meet the demands of all learners and employers, and to positively impact personal and economic wellbeing. Links with employers Connecting FE providers to their communities and the regional economy is highlighted in the white paper as a priority. Jisc is well-placed to strengthen this ambition through its world-class digital infrastructure, the Janet Network, and secure, seamless  connectivity.  That includes providing reliable and ubiquitous wifi – still sadly lacking for an alarming number of FE campuses. Only 68% of FE learners responding to our annual survey said they had access to reliable on-campus wifi and even less - 63% - agreed that their organisation gave them access to online systems and services from anywhere.  FE providers that have begun their technological transformation, particularly those with multiple campuses, are finding that extra digital capacity is only possible with reliable connections to Janet. With increased demand for cloud storage and online communications, bandwidth upgrades must keep pace.  [#pullquote#]With increased demand for cloud storage and online communications, bandwidth upgrades must keep pace[#endpullquote#]Jisc protects colleges’ connections to Janet, but providers still need to put in place robust measures to defend their own systems and networks against cyber attacks, or risk potentially catestrophic consequencesJisc feature on Dundee and Angus College 2020 ransomware attack: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/ransomware-attack-how-one-college-pulled-together-to-rebuild-and-recover-29-oct-2020.   If an extra incentive were needed, employers are more likely to work with providers if they can demonstrate digital maturity, have sufficient bandwidth and are serious about cyber protectionRead Jisc blog post from Milton Keynes College's head of information services, Jonathan Wilson, 'Implementing a security standard needs a mandate from the top' - http://www.jisc.ac.uk/blog/implementing-a-security-standard-needs-a-mandate-from-the-top-03-aug-2020. Digital skills Our 2020 digital experience insights survey of FE staff finds that more needs to be done to build up skills and confidence using technology in teaching - a necessity if education is to prepare learners for the digital workplace and lifelong learning, as the white paper indicates. The Jisc and Association of Colleges research project report, shaping the digital future of FE and skills, published in September 2020, has a plan to meet that aim: it recommends that Jisc, the Education Training Foundation and the College Development Network (Scotland) develop a digital pedagogy CPD programme for staff. In the meantime, there’s some excellent peer-to-peer upskilling going on within the edtech demonstrator programme, which I’m pleased to see that the government is extending beyond its original March deadline. Digital content At last, Ofqual looks to be starting the conversation on digitising the out-of-date assessment systemUK Government briefing paper: Online and on-screen assessment in high stakes sessional qualifications - https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/943395/Barriers_to_online_briefing_paper_111220.pdf for high-stakes exams - and we have advice to shareJisc report: the future of assessment: five principles, five targets for 2025 - https://www.jisc.ac.uk/reports/the-future-of-assessment on that, too. The sector must prepare for this by working hand-in-hand with employers to develop standardised digital content to support learning on all courses.  While the white paper makes a similar point and says the government will ‘support’ that aim, what’s lacking is a commitment to fund a centralised FE and skills digital content search and discovery platform, as the shaping the digital future of FE and skills report suggests. A handful of colleges, PlumptonJisc feature on Plumpton College 'Getting students ready for the changing workplace' - https://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/getting-students-ready-for-the-changing-workplace-18-nov-2019  and USPFeature: USP College ‘Virtually connected classroom network would save time, money and solve the teacher shortage’ - https://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/virtually-connected-classroom-network-would-save-time-money-and-solve-the-teacher-shortage-19-jan-2021, for example, are leading the way here, but centralised support is required if the whole sector is to benefit. [#pullquote#]what’s lacking is a commitment to fund a centralised FE and skills digital content search and discovery platform[#endpullquote#]Strategic thinking Providing a framework for the future, the white paper’s aims can only be realised if all FE principals and CEOs show digital leadership and understand the fundamental culture change they must manage as part of that. As the pandemic brought home, technological evolution is no longer an option – and Jisc will continue to support members to reach that destination and beyond. As the UK’s digital body for lifelong learning, we will play a pivotal role in connecting FE providers to their communities, each other and employers, focused on developing a sustainable sector, serving technically skilled and digitally confident citizens. Find out about Jisc’s strategy for supporting FE and skills members. Read our report, shaping the digital future of FE and skills.  
  • Jisc’s vision for supporting research and innovation 2021 – 2023 
    The demands on and priorities of the UK research and innovation sector are evolving at pace. We see increased pressure on financial sustainability, an increased focus on improving research culture, and the need to prioritise on integrity and transparency, while accelerating routes to application.    Our support of the research and innovation sector stems from our position as the UK’s national research and education network (NREN), providing infrastructure and facilities including the Janet Network.Janet is the fastest computer network in the world and is essential for meeting the demands of research. It connects UK higher education institutions and research establishments to the rest of the digital research world, securely moving huge volumes of research data and providing the high-speed connection for collaborative research.We also provide solutions around cyber security, cloud, data, licensing, content and discovery to empower our members with the technology and data they need to succeed.In  response to changing demands of the sector and after extensive engagement with our members we have identified seven  themes that will shape our support of the UK research and innovation sector in the coming two years.   These themes will direct our activities and will support our vision: for the UK to be a world leader in technology for education and research.[#pullquote#]In  response to changing demands of the sector and after extensive engagement with our members we have identified seven  themes that will shape our support of the UK research and innovation sector in the coming two years[#endpullquote#]Theme one: Supporting a new national data infrastructure for researchNever before has research and innovation been so dependent on infrastructure, on the capacity of network, security, connectivity and access management. This dependency will continue to grow.We commit to supporting a new national data infrastructure for research, underpinned by our existing Janet network, cyber security, cloud and data infrastructures and will coordinate the implementation of a flexible set of solutions for institutions and research collaborations.Theme two: UK research analytics: understanding systems, cultures, resources and decision-makingThe data produced through the processes of research management could be used on a greater scale to transform research systems, cultures and decision-making. Exponentially-upgraded analytical capacity is needed to build the strategic capabilities of UK research.We will examine the potential for a new UK research analytics platform and service, enhancing our existing analytics capabilities. [#pullquote#]Exponentially-upgraded analytical capacity is needed to build the strategic capabilities of UK research[#endpullquote#]Theme three: Recording the UK’s ‘research estate’ in support of a UK-wide research capabilityThe ability to identify, deploy, share and reuse physical and intangible assets that comprise the research estate are central to delivering efficiencies, the civic agenda, levelling up, open research and achieving net-zero. These assets also include the significant infrastructure which gives access to research, including content, library and archival collections.We will explore expanding the well-established digital approaches to the management and use of these assets. Theme four: Accelerating the achievement, delivery and monitoring of the journey to open researchOpen research extends beyond the boundaries of open access articles to all research outputs, including metadata, data, code, algorithms and software, as well as the processes of research itself. It will continue to be a high priority for the UK research base, for funders and for Jisc.We commit to helping the UK embrace the full potential of open research by removing barriers, embedding open practices and developing infrastructure to support this potential. Theme five: Applied research and knowledge exchange: supporting commercialisation and deploymentThe interconnected systems producing world-class research and innovation are increasingly reliant on shared and secure infrastructure to enable their growth. The breadth of academic-industry collaborations and commercial spinouts from academic research is set to grow.We commit to further supporting the acceleration of the impact of and knowledge exchange from research commercialisation through the enhanced use of shared research infrastructure.[#pullquote#]The interconnected systems producing world-class research and innovation are increasingly reliant on shared and secure infrastructure to enable their growth[#endpullquote#]Theme six: Rapid innovation in research management and active researchResearch integrity, reproducibility and reuse, evaluation and assessment, new and inclusive forms of excellence and the responsible use of metrics are all areas that offer significant potential for greater efficiency and interoperability.We commit to exploring and building on innovative approaches in research management, including enhanced system interoperability, common data repository standards and metrics aggregator models.Theme seven: ‘Research 4.0’ and realising the art of the possibleAdvanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, 5G, quantum computing and biotechnologies are set to impact the UK’s world-leading research and innovation sector in the years ahead in ways yet to be imagined.We propose a technical enablers programme focusing on exemplifying leading-edge specialisms and a ‘research reimagined’ programme to better understand this future potential with and on behalf of our members.Our research and innovation sector strategy has been shaped by our engagement with researchers, research managers and research enablers. The strategy will continue to evolve and develop in the next two years to address the needs of the ever-changing research environment.[#pullquote#]Our research and innovation sector strategy has been shaped by our engagement with researchers, research managers and research enablers[#endpullquote#]Continuing conversations  around  Research 4.0: Research in the Age of Automation (as outlined  in a report by the independent thinktank, Demos) we are working closely with the research community, bringing innovative ideas together to form  a new  digital  research  community  group. Read our research and innovation sector strategy 2021-2023.
  • Serving students in times of COVID is challenging for us librarians
    Always at the heart of the university, the library during lockdown is a lifeline for many students. But library directors are struggling to balance the needs of their students and staff. It’s been a tough few weeks, since we reopened after the Christmas break.The most recent Scottish Government guidance allows university libraries to open in the context of education and a reason for essential travel. But many students remain on or near campus and lack good study spaces or technology, so it is really important that we try and provide an environment and information resources to them.However, to minimise contact under the tightest Scottish restrictions (‘level four') we are required to prevent access to our shelves. As a result, students are now solely reliant on our click and collect service, whether or not they choose to stay in the library to study or return to their accommodation. Welcoming but safeWe have done a huge amount of work to make sure the library is safe and have liaised very closely with the university’s health and safety team. But having to restrict access, and prevent our students browsing, flies in the face of what libraries are for, so we find this hard to do. At the same time, we totally understand that they make our buildings safer for both students and library staff. [#pullquote#]having to restrict access, and prevent our students browsing, flies in the face of what libraries are for[#endpullquote#]We want our libraries to be welcoming spaces; and social environments that promote scholarly studying, learning, exploration, and discovery. We continue to try to help our students thrive when they visit by delivering more and more digital content and support to them when they are learning online. Limiting numbersSo, stripping back our services has been hard.Due to the very latest restrictions, we have had to keep two of our libraries closed and only our main building (the Sir Duncan Rice Library) is open at the moment. We’ve also had to reduce occupancy, which in normal times would allow more than 1,000 visitors. Last year we reduced this to about 260, and now we are limiting it further to 150. We’ve had to tape off our shelves and put notices up saying ‘do not touch the books’. This feels ridiculous on one level: a library preventing access to its books. But we understand why we must do all we can to limit the risk of viral transmission. We also quarantine books for 72 hours on return, in line with international guidelines.[#pullquote#]We’ve had to tape off our shelves and put notices up saying ‘do not touch the books’. This feels ridiculous on one level: a library preventing access to its books. But we understand why we must do all we can[#endpullquote#]Helping where we canWe are seeing a few hundred students come through our security gates every day, and as we have asked them to ensure they have an essential need we want to do our best to provide for them.I feel so sad for students experiencing university like this and am so pleased we can do something to help them. At the same time, my colleagues are very concerned about working in this environment, so I am trying to ensure many can work from home, and those who need to come in have at least some days working from home.I believe we are striking a good balance at the moment between student needs and staff confidence. We do need to remind some of our students that they must wear face coverings at all times (this is a legal requirement in libraries in Scotland) but on the whole they are doing the right thing, which helps reassure staff.TiredWe have now removed study spaces on the floor where front desk staff offices are based, and they feel more secure knowing that they aren’t surrounded by students at study spaces. We also carry out risk assessments with all staff before they come back to campus and the university is very sympathetic to concerns; we seek to reassure people that it is safe rather than insisting they return if they aren’t sure that it is. These challenges are very demanding on all of us and we are often exhausted by them. Even just having to wear a face covering all day while doing your job is really hard, which is another reason to ensure people can also work from home for at least some of the time. [#pullquote#]These challenges are very demanding on all of us and we are often exhausted by them. Even just having to wear a face covering all day while doing your job is really hard[#endpullquote#]Balancing act So we are doing our best and I think we are doing it very well indeed, especially as the rules change, regularly and often at very short notice. There is an impact on our strategic work while we respond to what is urgent.We need to find time to support the university’s Research Excellence Framework submission, of course, but further development of our scholarly communications service is hard to find time for.I’m also concerned about the time needed for very important publisher negotiations this year; not just for me and my colleagues but for the academics and committees we will be coming to and asking for time and feedback.Supporting student and staff wellbeing is now more important than ever. We’re committed to helping organisations protect the wellbeing of staff and students by using technology. Learn more about how to support staff and student wellbeing by using technology. You can also sign up to our series of wellbeing events, to hear about and share best practice : 
  • FE and skills white paper is a welcome boost for a sector on the cusp of a digital revolution
    Today’s FE and skills white paper is a welcome boost for a sector that’s poised and ready for a digital revolution – and has been waiting for government direction and investment to help make that happen.  Reflecting some of the aims of Jisc's FE and skills strategy and the final report from the Independent Commission on the College of the Future, the white paper provides a blueprint for change that should better meet the demands of learners, employers and, ultimately, the economy.[#pullquote#]The white paper provides a blueprint for change that should better meet the demands of learners, employers and, ultimately, the economy[#endpullquote#]I’m pleased that the government has taken on board the evidence and advice provided by the sector and that this paper will at last help to strengthen FE provider’s positions in the economic landscape.There are a number of key points that Jisc will be working to support and advise on:Connections to communities and the regional economy is highlighted as a priority and will need strengthening through digital infrastructure and secure, seamless connectivityThe FE workforce will need upskilling if it is to prepare learners for the digital workplace and lifelong learningIf the FE sector is to respond to qualification and assessment reform and employer demand, it must have access to high quality and accessible digital content across all subjects and levelsFind out more about how Jisc supports the FE and skills sector.
  • Lessons learned from six years of learning analytics at The Open University
    Three key lessons learned from The Open University’s award-winning use of data. It’s a common assumption with learning analytics (LA), that just getting hold of data is enough, and that the magic will happen all by itself. But that’s certainly not the case.Start smallFully integrating learning analytics into an organisation takes a lot of time and effort, and small steps are a great way to start.[#pullquote#]Fully integrating learning analytics into an organisation takes a lot of time and effort, and small steps are a great way to start.[#endpullquote#]Back in 2014, when we started to launch our first learning analytics dashboards at the Open University, we spent a lot of time investigating what was working for our organisation, what wasn’t working, and figuring out where we could do better. If we noticed, for example, that the data reflected students were particularly struggling during a certain week or a certain module, we would then focus in on what was different about that week or module; could learning design be improved? Is the student dealing with other external factors? This kind of exercise seems like a small, niche investigation, but it has wide-ranging implications, and is an essential step in the implementation of LA.Similarly, the OU has a very flexible approach to what modules students can take within their degree pathways. This sometimes means that, for example, student A could do really well in module 1, but then struggle with module 2. This allows teachers to look at how they might better advise module pathways, or transitional content.[#pullquote#]Through our use of learning analytics, we can follow students’ journeys, and at the same time data is fed back to teachers and people who are responsible for curriculum design[#endpullquote#]Through our use of learning analytics, we can follow students’ journeys, and at the same time data is fed back to teachers and people who are responsible for curriculum design to see what can be done to improve the overall teaching and learning experience.This small start allowed us to develop our use of LA without overwhelming staff or students, and now this is business as usual – we call it ‘Analytics4Action’ and it’s one of the things I’m most proud of.Use evidence-based research to help shape the narrativeThere will always be some sceptical members of staff through a technological transformation. And it’s understandable – many education professionals have seen tech come and go throughout their careers, sometimes causing more harm than good.[#pullquote#]The best way to make sure that learning analytics doesn’t fall into the same trap is to show real-world evidence of where it has worked and made a real impact.[#endpullquote#]The best way to make sure that learning analytics doesn’t fall into the same trap is to show real-world evidence of where it has worked and made a real impact.In the good old days before COVID-19 when we could physically meet in the same room, we would bring teachers together with other members of staff across the organisation – those in libraries, and anyone that worked with student data – and we would literally sit down and look at the data dashboards on screen together. We’d talk through patterns we noticed, discussing what was working and what wasn’t going so well. It was a great way to get an understanding of what data is useful for these staff members to improve services, and to inform their decision-making.It also meant we were – crucially – able to contextualise what the data was telling us. For example, if there was a drop off in student engagement during a certain week, a teacher might say that they had given the students a break, and so instead of reflecting a crisis, the data would in fact indicate normal fluctuations in students’ learning journeys. So, by having these perspectives, we’re getting a dialogue, and the data then starts to tell an understandable story within the context of our organisation.[#pullquote#]Our learning design team also continuously works with staff to ensure they have the data knowledge they need.[#endpullquote#]Our learning design team also continuously works with staff to ensure they have the data knowledge they need.By keeping up with training and professional development, the idea is that eventually staff becomes self-sufficient in their use and interpretation of data. There are always the early adopters, who are keen to innovate, but the vast majority of people will only be convinced once they see that it works. Making sure to use evidence-based research and keeping all relevant members of staff involved in the process of implementation can go a long way to smoothing the transition.Celebrate your successesBecause implementing a resilient learning analytics programme takes time and a lot of effort, it can be easy to continuously focus on the next step and forget to celebrate your successes along the way.[#pullquote#] these celebrations are essential to keep the motivation and momentum going - because the big things don’t happen overnight. [#endpullquote#]But these celebrations are essential to keep the motivation and momentum going - because the big things don’t happen overnight. They are the result of months, often years, of cumulative effort.It’s easy to compare yourself and your organisation to those that are ahead of the curve, too. For instance, universities like Monash in Australia are doing great things with analytics, but that doesn’t negate the amazing, if smaller, projects happening elsewhere.It’s important to remember that even though there will likely be some, or many, institutions ahead of you, all progress is good progress, and should be celebrated. A good example from my own experience is that recently The Open University won the DataIQ Award for Best Predictive Learning Analytics. And that journey was almost six years in the making.[#pullquote#]You can forget all the little successes that led up to that big one, but when you look back, you can see that an amazing amount of ground has been covered in that time [#endpullquote#]You can forget all the little successes that led up to that big one, but when you look back, you can see that an amazing amount of ground has been covered in that time, made up of many, many smaller projects. So yes, celebrate those wins – they're worth it.To hear Bart discuss more lessons he’s learned through implementing learning analytics, book your place at Data Matters, running online from 26-27 January 2021. You can also learn more about harnessing the power of your data.
  • Using data to help prepare for an uncertain future: a vision for HE
    As universities face 2021 with optimism, robust data visions and collaborative working can help them achieve their objectives. 2020 has been a rollercoaster for education, and as we move into 2021, there is still a lack of certainty around what restrictions might look like - and what impact they will have on teaching and learning.One thing that has become more apparent this year is the importance of data in supporting both student and staff experiences. However, sometimes making wish lists for the future is the easy part; what is often harder is figuring out that vision and the steps required to get there.[#pullquote#]One thing that has become more apparent this year is the importance of data in supporting both student and staff experiences.[#endpullquote#]Using data for decision-making is a journey, and knowing both where you are in the present, and the direction you have come from, is an important part of the planning process. In the past, universities have been able to rely on historical data sets to compare against current data and observe trends. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the sector in ways we’ve never seen before, and therefore historical data is not relevant to the current circumstances. This means that journey-planning needs to start from scratch, and so having clean data and a robust strategy in place will be essential as the higher education (HE) sector continues to emerge.Breaking out of the siloData, and its uses and implications, have had increasing amounts of mainstream media coverage in recent years. From social media collecting personal data, to revelations about intelligent assistants in the home, conversations about data are becoming more common. But understanding how to create and implement a data strategy can be complicated, and institutions can benefit from sharing ideas and best practice.[#pullquote#]There is an assumption that everybody understands the ins and outs of data, but despite pockets of extensive knowledge throughout the HE sector, not everyone is a data expert – nor should they have to be.[#endpullquote#]There is an assumption that everybody understands the ins and outs of data, but despite pockets of extensive knowledge throughout the HE sector, not everyone is a data expert – nor should they have to be.Most people know how data factors into their specific role - within a silo - but implementing an organisation-wide data strategy means breaking out of these siloes and coming together with peers to discuss how to ensure interoperability between systems and processes. A single source of truth is essential when using data to inform strategy and vision, and it’s important to ensure that that source is readily and securely available to relevant areas of the organisation.Computer says...Data provides a foundation on which to build a narrative. Being able to decipher a human-led story can help universities understand more about the uncertainty they are facing, and the human impact. They can also use this narrative to identify ways in which they can ready themselves and move forward. Preparing for uncertainty may sound like an oxymoron, but developing flexibility and agility within an organisation will allow for swifter action when things change.[#pullquote#]Considering an ethical framework, GDPR requirements, data cleanliness and other aspects of a robust data foundation will help to ensure that an organisation’s view of data is as clear as possible. [#endpullquote#]Considering an ethical framework, GDPR requirements, data cleanliness and other aspects of a robust data foundation will help to ensure that an organisation’s view of data is as clear as possible, and that any subsequent decision-making is as accurate as it can be.What is certain is uncertainty. But if data is used in the right way, and if organisations work together to understand how HE can best utilise the skills and tools at its disposal, there is an exciting future ahead.For further discussion about the use of data in education and research, book your place at Data Matters, running online from 26-27 January 2021.
  • Reflecting on 2020 – and getting ready for 2021
    COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to digital learning and teaching and a tremendous amount of work has taken place to make this shift happen. We look back at some of the highlights of 2020 in supporting this rapid transformation in teaching, learning and research. One of the first challenges was how to give students access to learning materials while campuses were closed. Jisc together with sector partners, published a call to action asking academic publishers to open up access to content and worked with textbook publishers and suppliers including Kortext and BibliU to make textbooks freely available without restrictions. In the space of just a few weeks, suppliers agreed on a nationwide programme to ensure all 2.4 million  university students and 217,000 academic staff could access their key learning resources.Most publishers responded positively to our call, and direct negotiations with suppliers that did not make additional materials available resulted in additional access to learning materials and research.On the software front, when the pandemic first took grip, we ensured that all institutions were aware of the home use rights available under their current agreements. We also initiated discussions with Adobe, which resulted in free student home use licences for all institutions in the UK until the middle of the summer.Critical accessAs the pandemic progressed, it was apparent that retaining access to existing content in light of increased costs and reduced income was going to be a critical challenge. In June, the  Universities UK Jisc content negotiation strategy group called on major academic publishers to provide reductions to reflect the pressures put on library budgets due to the pandemic. After months of intense negotiations, 27 publisher agreements were reduced in price, saving the sector £7.1m.[#pullquote#]After months of intense negotiations, 27 publisher agreements were reduced in price, saving the sector £7.1m.[#endpullquote#]Our transnational licensing service clarifies and implements licensing provision for UK HEIs which deliver content to students associated with transnational partnerships. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we developed guidance to address questions raised by Jisc member institutions - along with those brought to us on their behalf by SCONUL, RLUK & UUKi - relating to providing remote access to Jisc-licensed content to students based outside of the UK.Welcome reliefA further welcome relief to institutions was the removal of VAT on electronic publications, including academic journals. In response we evaluated the VAT status of all our 2500 agreements and asked publishers to review their rates accordingly. Since May we have worked with internal and external tax advisors, publishers and sector bodies such as BUFDG to encourage greater consistency and to ensure that our members can benefit from the VAT relief.The pandemic and the challenges of shifting to online further highlighted the value of open access to research. At the start of 2020 the Wiley transitional open access agreement was launched, converting 50% of UK subscription spend to support OA publishing. In just a year, the agreement has rapidly increased the amount of OA in hybrid titles from 30% to 78%.[#pullquote#]In just a year, the agreement has rapidly increased the amount of OA in hybrid titles from 30% to 78%.[#endpullquote#]One of the main vehicles to achieve rapid and cost-effective open access are the transitional agreements which include ‘read and publish’ agreements negotiated by Jisc. These allow for a sustainable transition for publishers whilst offering institutions online reading access to each publishers’ full portfolio and OA publishing for researchers. Jisc has secured 24 transformative agreements supporting the transition from paywalled to immediate and openly available research.New publishing modelsThe read and publish model doesn’t work for every publisher so we’re also trialling other OA models. The ‘Subscribe to Open’ model, which relies on maintaining revenues from the subscriber base to enable all content to be made OA, is the basis of our agreement with the European Mathematical Society (EMS) Press as well as one of the innovative article processing charges (APC)-free agreements with not-for-profit OA publisher, PLOS. Green OA continues to have an important role in ensuring funder compliance and was the approach favoured by members for our Emerald agreement.[#pullquote#]Green OA continues to have an important role in ensuring funder compliance[#endpullquote#]Throughout all of this, the Jisc licensing team continued to evaluate, negotiate, license and make available over 160 agreements, constraining costs and reducing administrative effort for our members.What’s on the cards for 2021?Next year, UK universities will commence negotiations with Elsevier, one of the world’s largest for-profit publishers, for a new ScienceDirect agreement that supports funder policies on open access and reduces and constrains sector expenditure. With thanks to our UUK Jisc content negotiation strategy group, our content expert group and our members, the sector has identified and agreed the key principles and strategy underlining the negotiations for 2021 and we look forward to working with all our members as we progress through the negotiation.At the start of 2021, we will continue to work with institutions to establish their immediate priorities and their future ambitions in providing a student learning experience as identified in the learning and teaching reimagined report. We will be evaluating the data from the Kortext and Bibliu agreements and continue discussions, alongside partners, to engage with publishers and suppliers on affordable and sustainable models.The long-term effects of the pandemic on public and institutional finances are yet to be seen, and it is clear that further turbulence lies ahead. Institutions will continue to do more with less whilst providing even  greater support for teaching and learning  and  enhancing the research  culture. However, with over 50% of UK research output now covered by a Jisc-negotiated transitional agreement, we’re on the right track to see radically increased access to research.[#pullquote#]we’re on the right track to see radically increased access to research.[#endpullquote#]More information about all available OA agreements that comply with the new Wellcome Trust OA policy can be found on our OA page.
  • The National Data Strategy – a golden opportunity to level up the use of data and innovation for education and research
    How the government’s new strategy will help drive the next phase of education and research development. The aim of the UK government’s National Data Strategy (NDS), published in September 2020 by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), is ‘to drive the collective vision that will support the UK to build a world-leading data economy’.For us at Jisc, an essential part of that collective vision is ensuring robust data standards for education and research, as well as a renewed focus on interoperability and trust.This requires a strong and resilient digital infrastructure, allowing for world-class connectivity and the capability to transfer the increasing volumes of data necessary within these sectors. Our Janet Network already enables high levels of connectivity and data transfer, while providing professional cyber security, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only re-emphasised digital infrastructure’s role as a foundation for the digital future.Getting the right conditions in place to enable better and more confident use of data could deliver unprecedented benefits both to learners and the economy, and make the UK a global leader in its use of technology.Detox your dataBeing able to gather and analyse data is one thing, but making sure that data is 'clean’ and meaningful is quite another.[#pullquote#]Being able to gather and analyse data is one thing, but making sure that data is 'clean’ and meaningful is quite another.[#endpullquote#]The computational adage of ‘garbage in, garbage out’ is at its most relevant here – for data to provide meaningful insight, strong foundations must be in place. The NDS refers to data foundations as ‘data that is fit for purpose, recorded in standardised formats on modern, future-proof systems and held in a condition that means it is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable.’ Government can help to enable education and research providers in developing data foundations, particularly by supporting the importance of embracing common data standards.Currently, data standards in university settings are largely defined by those within sector bodies such as HESA, the Office for Students (OfS) and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW). But there are several other data sources which do not use these common standards or structures, and do not have the same level of quality assurance, resulting in a significant amount of time and effort spent on cleansing data.As detailed in our consultation response – readable in full here - we would welcome government helping us at Jisc to make improving data foundations easier for providers and data users such as enabling them to collect data once and use it in multiple ways (data minimisation), and to link between internal systems and external data sources that already use common data standards.This enhanced level of data analytics would improve forecasting, business and benchmark modelling for education providers, assisting in strategic and operational planning, and decision-making.Universities and colleges would also be able to move from descriptive to prescriptive and predictive analytics, covering all aspects of core activity including business operations, course planning, research and student success.From streamlining resources through to course delivery and wellbeing, efficient use of clean, reliable data is a bedrock for improving the educational experience for staff and students alike.Enhancing global education and researchThe COVID-19 pandemic has also increased the spotlight on the importance of digital and data interoperability.[#pullquote#]The COVID-19 pandemic has also increased the spotlight on the importance of digital and data interoperability.[#endpullquote#]Being able to track learner achievements across regions, domestic and international borders would help support ongoing global student mobility, in line with the UK’s international education strategy. This is especially pertinent as it is likely that transnational education (TNE) will increase in the medium term, with students possibly deciding to stay in their home countries for further and higher education.One way to support this tracking is to better the use of Unique Learner Numbers (ULNs). We would support the issuing of a ULN to all UK learners by government, similar to the current mandate for a UK Provider Reference Number (UKPRN), and encourage the increased use of ULNs beyond the secondary and further education sectors.Similar to a national insurance number, ULNs are portable and secure, and would deliver long-term benefits to learners, education providers and government, playing a vital role in lifelong learning and increased use of microcredentials.[#pullquote#]Similar to a national insurance number, ULNs are portable and secure, and would deliver long-term benefits to learners, education providers and government[#endpullquote#]ULNs could allow learners to log their learning achievements in one place throughout their lives, resulting in a coherent portfolio even if they use multiple learning providers.In data we trustData must be treated with the utmost care, and institutions need to be confident that students are fully informed as to why and how their data is being collected. Findings from our Digital Experience Insights Survey 2020 showed that only 36% of HE students and 37% of FE students surveyed believed their organisation told them how their data was used.It is therefore essential that the National Data Strategy considers plans to increase understanding and trust in how data is being processed and analysed, and ensure that in the case of education, both learners and staff are being provided with the skills to use data confidently.[#pullquote#]It is therefore essential that the National Data Strategy considers plans to increase understanding and trust in how data is being processed and analysed[#endpullquote#]We have also worked with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on a code of practice for learning analytics, which provides guidance to universities and colleges exploring the use of data analytics to support teaching and learning. The code of practice highlights universities’ and colleges’ responsibilities to carry out learning analytics in an ethical and legal way, including making sure students are aware of what data is required, and the purpose of learning analytics; namely, to improve the student experience.In addition, this year we have also worked with the ICO on a code of practice for wellbeing and mental health analytics, possible applications of which cover a very wide range, from screen-break reminders to alerts when a student appears to be at risk of suicide.Data as the key to innovationData goes beyond learning analytics and can enable advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).Facilitating these technologies through better use of data will in turn open up opportunities for real social and economic impact, helping to drive and sustain the next phase of education and research through the fourth industrial revolution.[#pullquote#]Facilitating these technologies through better use of data will in turn open up opportunities for real social and economic impact[#endpullquote#]Now is a golden opportunity for public sector organisations to come together, supported by government, for a common goal and unlock the innovation we know we’re capable of. And it all starts with data.For further discussion about the use of data in education and research, book your place at the Data Matters conference, running online from 26-27 January 2021. Early bird booking is available until December 31 2020.
  • Now is the time to reimagine the research estate
    When COVID hit and the demand for equipment became a pressing issue, local governments and universities across the UK mobilised their equipment and facilities to combat the virus. This exercise showed that a review of the research estate is essential. As we move towards a programme of vaccination, we recall examples from earlier in the pandemic where UK higher and further education institutions supported the response to COVID-19, working with the NHS, government, industry and local authorities to respond rapidly.Many of these institutions offered their expertise and assets in a range of ways, including designing and testing products, analysing data, and sharing buildings, laboratories and facilities.Complex landscapeThe equipment, facilities and infrastructure landscape across the sector, in particular in research-intensive universities, is diverse and complex. Maintaining a holistic, representative and current understanding of that landscape can be challenging.It soon became clear that there is potential for the development of open asset registers that bring together this information at a national level.[#pullquote#]There are many examples across the sector of initiatives that bring together information about institutional research equipment and data.[#endpullquote#]There are many examples across the sector of initiatives that bring together information about institutional research equipment and data. For instance, several groups of research-intensive institutions have come together in geographically-oriented clusters.Bringing assets together in one placeHelping to bring together knowledge about research equipment, Jisc has run the equipment.data service since 2014. It’s an open digital database of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funded research equipment and enables institutions to improve the visibility of their research equipment and infrastructure facilities by harvesting and aggregating data.The platform was created in response to funder mandates such as the UKRI’s grant requirement, which obliges “all new equipment purchased over £138,000 to be registered on the equipment.data national database”.Originally funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Council, the service now provides details and contact information on more than 17,000 items of equipment at nearly 60 research institutes and universities, including the virus spot machine at University College London and the cell counter at Sheffield Hallam University.[#pullquote#]The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed an opportunity to better support the UK research and innovation sector in the management of its research estate.[#endpullquote#]The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed an opportunity to better support the UK research and innovation sector in the management of its research estate.Our members reported:“There is much potential to identify every lab in the UK and its specification. If another crisis arises, we need to know what we have and allow institutions to draw the information together systematically.”The physical and intangible assets which comprise the ‘research estate’ such as equipment and software, are also central to the civic agenda, discussions focused on place and levelling up and form are seen as vital components of the open research and net-zero ambitions.Sector viewsJisc is seeking input to garner community views on the potential for a next-generation digital approach to the management of the research estate. What are the opportunities to provide better utilisation, encourage higher quality multidisciplinary research and reduce costs?[#pullquote#]What are the opportunities to provide better utilisation, encourage higher quality multidisciplinary research and reduce costs?[#endpullquote#]What is the potential to bring together persistent identifiers and to create standardised metadata in support of greater transparency, visibility and reproducibility of the physical and intangible assets which comprise the ‘research estate’?These are questions Jisc seeks to address by working with our members and funders and by engaging the Jisc research strategy forum which is a group of pro vice-chancellors for research from institutions across the UK and involving the newly formed digital research community.Policy callsThere are strategic drivers that support the development of an enhanced research infrastructure, too. For example, the UK Government research and development roadmap includes the ambition to “champion the development of a truly strategic, national laboratory capability and identify opportunities to strengthen their capabilities and ability to collaborate, especially with the private sector, devolved administrations and local civic authorities”.The recent Spending Review aims to “ensure that the government matches the ambitions of a global Britain. This includes reinforcing the UK’s role as a scientific superpower by investing in research and development (R&D).”Part of the overall uplift for research and development of the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) includes the “Up to £17 million in 2021-22 to support the exploitation of government-owned intangible assets by launching a new unit and fund to scout for and develop government ‘knowledge assets’ (IP, data, R&D, tech and other intangibles).”Higher education institutions (HEIs) have requested support to deliver against these requirements, in association with industry. Support for the digital management of the research estate will be pivotal for a thriving research sector.[#pullquote#]Support for the digital management of the research estate will be pivotal for a thriving research sector.[#endpullquote#]Meanwhile, UKRI has announced it will invest £88 million to modernise research laboratories and expand world-leading facilities to equip scientists working on research challenges, such as climate change and COVID-19.On the road to clarityA review of the management of the research estate, whether it concerns bricks and mortar such as equipment or intangible things like metadata or persistent identifiers, will be the first step toward a holistic and more efficient research sector.Anyone interested in joining the discussion about the development of an enhanced approach to the management of the research estate should get in touch with me.
  • How institutional repositories support the transition to open research - and reduce admin burden for librarians
    Publisher and funder mandates and the desire to embrace best practice in open research, reproducibility and research integrity means universities now need to carefully manage, store and share their digital research outputs. The policies, mandates, legal directives and the amount of good practice guidance relevant to research outputs is increasing and librarians are faced with growing workloads while budgets are squeezed.With effect from 2021, the open access initiative Plan S requires that “from 2021, scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants must be published in compliant open access journals or platforms or made immediately available through open access repositories without embargo.” Also following the principles of Plan S, major research funder Wellcome, will no longer cover the costs of OA publishing in subscription journals.[#pullquote#]“from 2021, scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants must be published in compliant open access journals or platforms or made immediately available through open access repositories without embargo.”[#endpullquote#]And the UK’s 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) now also requires all work submitted to this system for assessing the quality of UK research to sit in a repository.But not just the REF, Plan S and Wellcome are demanding open access to research. Global initiatives including Open Access 2020, the World Health Organisation and the UK government and are all pushing for a fully open research environment. This is reflected in our forthcoming research strategy which aims to “accelerate the achievement, delivery and monitoring of the journey to open research.”For most authors, this means using an institutional repository (IR) - an archive for collecting, preserving, and disseminating digital copies of the intellectual output of an institution.Storing research outputs in an institutional repository ensures that the published work of scholars is available to the academic community in the long term, even after increases in subscription fees or budget cuts within libraries prevent scholars from accessing the content.[#pullquote#]Storing research outputs in an institutional repository ensures that the published work of scholars is available to the academic community in the long term[#endpullquote#]However, the majority of research is still not published as open access which means new research is hidden behind paywalls until embargoes are lifted. IRs can help drive the transition toward open research without incurring the high costs publishers charge to make research freely available. They can also give access to scholarly communications systems and tools – components that have become key elements for increasing visibility and measuring impact of open access research.Research repositories became a cornerstone for publishing open access when funders allowed research to be published via a "green" route to open access. This means that authors also post their work to a website, their research institution, or to an independent central open repository, where anyone can download their work for free.This vision of increased collaboration through the use of IRs has been adopted by most research and education institutions. For instance, in 2008, the faculty of arts and sciences at Harvard University announced that it required the whole faculty to give the university copies of research, along with a non-exclusive license to distribute the work electronically. In the media, Harvard University librarian Robert Darnton proudly spoke of “reshaping the landscape of learning" and “fixing a damaged, overly expensive system of scholarly communication”.According to a qualitative study from the University of Oxford into academic engagement with open access and their institutional repositories, “many researchers and repository managers struggle with a tedious and difficult administrative task that may require many iterations to complete”.[#pullquote#]“many researchers and repository managers struggle with a tedious and difficult administrative task that may require many iterations to complete”[#endpullquote#]Recognising the sector’s frustration, Jisc has developed a new research repository. The service has been developed in partnership with the UK research sector and lifts some of the administrative burden of open access publishing carried by librarians.The Jisc research repository is a multi-content repository that manages all institutional research outputs (research articles, datasets and theses) including metadata-only records and those outputs that don’t have access to subject or funder data repositories.The new service is the most interoperable system on the market and permits integration with a wide range of Current Research Information Systems, research management systems and digital preservation systems, making it easier to report against funder mandates whilst creating automated workflows that transfer data objects and metadata, which reduces re-keying information between systems. The new service will allow institutions to meet all Plan S mandatory requirements and other funder and publisher mandates for open scholarship and includes an inbuilt ‘FAIR checker’ making sure that research data is ‘findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable’.[#pullquote#]With the transition to open research, the management and conduct of research itself is changing radically.[#endpullquote#]With the transition to open research, the management and conduct of research itself is changing radically. Beyond publications, research outputs such as data, software, and detailed methodology or workflow descriptions all need to be captured in order to assess the quality of research.Interoperable research repositories will become crucial for institutions to centrally oversee the management of all research outputs and to ‘join up’ digital research management platforms to reduce escalation and duplication of effort and report impact beyond the article.Digifest 2021If you are interested in how today's technologies can have an impact on tomorrow's libraries, join us at Digifest 2021. Take a look at the libraries content in the Digifest programme.
  • If we don’t upskill teachers in digital skills, learners will suffer
    There are too few providers in the UK whose staff have the technical expertise, support and vision to realise the potential of digital technology in teaching practice. Most are not digitally-transformed organisations, but rose to the pandemic challenge as best they could. Staff made enormous efforts under challenging conditions to support learners during mass disruption, usually by switching lessons to video conferencing platforms.This is not an inclusive or sustainable model, however; it excludes disadvantaged learners who don’t have easy access to devices or wifi and can result in lack of engagement over time.To give today’s learners the best chances in the workplace of tomorrow, the sector can do better and, to do that, teachers need support to upskill.[#pullquote#]To give today’s learners the best chances in the workplace of tomorrow, the sector can do better[#endpullquote#]Over the summer, Jisc and the AoC conducted a joint research project comprising three webinars and two senior leader roundtables attended by more than 400 practitioners, learners, senior leaders and edtech experts.It gave insight into the impact of lockdown on moving teaching and learning online - with data on subjects, including the digital divide, wellbeing, assessment and digital leadership - all collated in the project’s first report, shaping the digital future of FE and skills (pdf).The report highlights a range of responses about the shift to remote learning and teaching:“Many [staff] have felt positive about the shift, with feedback in webinars indicating that 66% of respondents thought the digital shift had a positive impact on their team and 55% highlighting an increase in their levels of productivity.“However […] others struggle with digital capabilities and confidence. Staff confirmed that a significant minority of teaching staff were not confident and were concerned that they would not be able to deliver the quality of teaching they expected of themselves (49%).”Learners attending the webinars had observed some teachers struggling with technology, echoed by comments from participants in the latest Jisc survey on learner digital experience insights (DEI) 2020 (pdf).“Some teachers do not have the adequate technological knowledge or confidence to make full use of such technology.”“We timed one of the lecturers on how long it took for them to access the learning materials they needed and it took 35 minutes of a two-hour lesson.”Confidence is keyThe learner DEI survey, collating responses from more than 19,000 FE students, found that, when asked what one thing could organisations do to improve the quality of digital teaching and learning, among the top answers learners gave was ‘help teaching staff to develop digital skills’.Meanwhile, the equivalent survey of FE staff finds that more needs to be done to build up skills and confidence using technology in teaching. It’s good to note that the vast majority (95%) of respondents either enjoy trying out new and innovative technologies or were comfortable using mainstream technologies. However, fewer (70%) are ‘very’ or ‘quite’ confident experimenting with new technology and 11% were either ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ confident.This survey also finds that a disappointing proportion (38%) agree their organisation provides guidance about the digital skills they need and only 22% agree they have time to explore new digital tools and approaches.Support for developmentSenior FE leaders taking part in the summer research also identified the need for digital professional development and coaching for staff struggling to cope with the transition to online teaching.To help, the shaping the digital future of FE and skills report recommends the development by Jisc, the Education Training Foundation and the College Development Network (Scotland) of a digital pedagogy CPD programme for staff.[#pullquote#]providers should give staff sufficient time to learn, practice with, and implement technology.[#endpullquote#]A further recommendation advises that providers should give staff sufficient time to learn, practice with, and implement technology. Fortunately, the sector can learn from those few colleges which are ahead on the journey to digital.Best practiceDuring lockdown, Grimsby Institute gave staff an online 'teaching and learning remotely' guide, including videos showing how to create and organise lessons including, discussions, online resources, integrating apps, virtual teaching, online assessment and recording attendance.And at Harlow College, significant investment in infrastructure and devices has been supported by the creation of a digital innovation team to boost development and training, recruitment of digital ambassadors and leaders, both students and staff, and a strong CPD programme.[#pullquote#]providers are at the forefront of the government’s drive to close the UK skills gap.[#endpullquote#]Learners need excellent digital skills to thrive in today’s workplace, and providers are at the forefront of the government’s drive to close the UK skills gap. But meeting those goals is only possible if FE teachers are digitally and pedagogically confident. Now we need to pull together to ensure that no member of staff – or learner – is left behind.To find out more about how Jisc supports the FE and skills sector, visit our further education and skills pages.
  • Is it worth investing in cyber insurance?
    Whether or not a college or university takes out cyber insurance is a question to be considered as part of a wider security and risk management strategy. That was the message delivered to delegates of the Jisc security conference earlier this month by speakers from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) - and one that we endorse, too.It's foolhardy to consider any aspect of security - including insurance - in isolation because it has implications across organisations, which is why we encourage board-level executives to consider cyber security as a strategic priority.Not even the most comprehensive cover can beat strategic investment in good security practices, although no combination of either measure provides a cover-all safety net against cyber attacks.[#pullquote#]Not even the most comprehensive cover can beat strategic investment in good security practices[#endpullquote#]Even if an organisation believes that it is well protected, with all the right technical controls, policies, certifications and training in place, insurance could still be sensible.Where the balance sits between the expense of premiums versus the cost of a cyber incident will likely be different for each provider.So, what role does cyber insurance have to play, and should colleges and universities invest in such policies?Time, money and peace of mindDepending on attitude to risk, one of the biggest plus points of cyber insurance has got to be peace of mind that practical and financial help will be given to recover from attacks.Members tell us that one of the biggest costs incurred in the event of cyber attacks is the extra staff time required to deal with the initial fall-out and recover. Some smaller institutions may not have the resource or in-house skills to cope, so could benefit from cyber insurance that covers the use of external personnel.For example, forensic experts could get to the root of the problem and help prevent an incident from spreading. This is also something our Janet Network computer security incident response team (CSIRT) can assist with as part of Jisc membership.[#pullquote#]working closely with the sector-specialist Janet CSIRT team could save time, money and effort.[#endpullquote#]If an insurance company appoints a third-party incident response or digital forensics company as a result of a successful claim, working closely with the sector-specialist Janet CSIRT team could save time, money and effort.Insurance could also cover the cost of specialist negotiators in the event of a ransomware attack (though Jisc and the NCSC advise not paying ransoms), or PR support to manage reputational risk.It can also help with legal fees, damage claims in the event of a data breach, or regulatory actions that need completing after an attack – such as fulfilling recommendations of the Information Commissioner’s Office.[#pullquote#]It’s clear then, that falling victim to cyber criminals can be extremely costly[#endpullquote#]It’s clear then, that falling victim to cyber criminals can be extremely costly. Although the precise fall-out is difficult to measure, our November 2020 cyber impact report attempts an assessment. For the first time, it brings together research on the impacts to staff resources, students, researchers, budgets and reputation.The picture across educationStats from Jisc’s 2020 cyber security posture survey find that the instance of insurance across the further and higher education sectors is not uniform.The study shows that 41% of responding higher education institutions (HEIs) and 60% of further education (FE) providers have some form of cyber security cover. There may be some provision as an add-on to business continuity insurance, for example. HEIs are more likely to have specific cyber security insurance (27%) than FE (15%).Interestingly, cyber insurance take-up in the education sector is greater than for other sectors, with only 11% of businesses and 6% of charities reporting in the 2019 DCMS cyber security breaches survey that they had a specific cyber security insurance policy.[#pullquote#]Education and research sectors are no more a target for cyber criminals than other sectors[#endpullquote#]Education and research sectors are no more a target for cyber criminals than other sectors, but perhaps, as public sector organisations, colleges and universities are more cautious about the possible financial implications of a cyber attack. With the extra pressure on budgets brought to bear by the pandemic, that caution may be heightened.What cover to choose?When exploring which cover to choose, it’s important to have accurate knowledge of baseline capability, resource and skills.Brokers will want to understand the level of protection in place and many will offer favourable rates to universities and colleges that can demonstrate certain defensive measures, such as earning Cyber Essentials certification. Be warned though – policies may not pay out if the insured fails to meet agreed protection standards.When considering cyber insurance for the first time, there will be a number of people in the organisation to check with; technical experts, anyone responsible for security and business continuity, and those responsible for contracts.Collectively, this team will need to decide what is covered and what is not. Which business-critical systems must have protection, and which are less important?[#pullquote#]Which business-critical systems must have protection, and which are less important?[#endpullquote#]Remember the threat landscape is constantly evolving so any policy will need regular review to reflect that, and to take into account changes to the organisation. If the defence capability increases, or the expertise and resource in the security and IT teams develops, could the cover be reduced? That’s an incentive to keep improving security posture.The NCSC’s guide to cyber insurance provides comprehensive advice, a checklist and also a warning: “Do not limit yourself to meeting the minimum cyber security requirements specified by an insurer; these might not adequately protect the things your organisation cares about.”That’s a sentiment we wholly support.Colleges, universities or research centres that suffer a cyber attack are urged to contact Janet CSIRT, even if assistance is not required; intelligence about current attacks may help other organisations. Jisc’s annual Networkshop conference (27-29 April 2021) has more information about the technology and infrastructure to help future-proof your college, university or research centre.
  • Let’s ‘build back better’ on post-COVID digital transformation
    Speaking alongside the universities minister, Michelle Donelan, tonight, Paul Feldman explains why students must be at the heart of tech-enabled teaching. 2020 has been a year like no other. It has brought challenges, it has brought change – and, for all the difficulties, I’ve been inspired to see it bring great collaboration, showing just how much the tertiary education sector can achieve when we pull together.The learning and teaching reimagined initiative is a perfect example of the good that can come from collaboration. Led by Jisc, with Emerge Education, Universities UK, and Advance HE, the project gathered research from more than 1,000 representatives from UK universities. Its report not only sets out the current challenges for the sector, it also imagines and plans an exciting, inclusive, technology-enabled future - and gives universities tools for delivering change in 2021/22 and beyond.From lecturer to learner, the view from the UK ‘frontline’ is that the future is blended. While it’s amazing to reflect on how fast institutions have moved to deliver high-quality teaching and learning this year, it’s also important to recognise the enthusiasm to learn from experience, build on successes and move forward to a place where learning takes place both online and in person.[#pullquote#]From lecturer to learner, the view from the UK ‘frontline’ is that the future is blended.[#endpullquote#]Increased engagement and supportThis must help all learners. I’m encouraged that the report finds 78% of lecturers see online learning as breaking down geographic barriers to learning - although 53% of staff think that disadvantaged students will find it harder. We can’t afford to widen the gap between the digital haves and have nots: this requires collaboration at a greater scale, including support from the government, to ensure a fully inclusive future.At the same time, students are seeing the benefit of being taught online and there is already evidence – highlighted in the learning and teaching reimagined report - of greater engagement and greater support. One proposed solution to getting it right for our students is for universities to include them in the design and delivery of what and how they are taught. [#pullquote#]Pressure is now on universities to build back better.[#endpullquote#]Pressure is now on universities to build back better. Government reforms may deliver a high-quality, more flexible system of higher technical education. Workplaces are digitising, and COVID-19 continues to fast-track the demand for skills that match the tech-enhanced jobs of now. Redefining universities’ purpose, ensuring learners can access a range of flexible options for learning throughout life, is vital in today’s world. This is where higher education (HE) can leverage technology to deliver its USP and enable the lecturer to educate and nurture resilient, creative students with skills in critical thinking, and the ability to collaborate. Building a tech-enabled futureThat is the basis of our Education 4.0 vision, where using the full potential of advanced technologies can personalise learning to the students' needs and wellbeing, modernise assessment and harmonise the digital and physical campus. So, what do we need to do in the decade ahead? The pivotal role of artificial intelligence (AI) is clearer than ever. Yet while our national GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is predicted to grow by 10.3% by 2030 due to AI, the tertiary education sector is yet to meaningfully embed it within courses. The UK is behind in the global pecking order of AI in education – China leads the way. We must look ahead to 2030 and ensure that the UK keeps its reputation as an international destination for HE, and technology could be the golden ticket.Despite the lack of a strategic spending envelope, we must look to invest if we are to catalyse our university sector as a global leader in technology-enabled education. That is why Jisc is calling for a new national centre for AI in tertiary education that will deliver real AI solutions at 60 colleges and 30 universities within five years, growing the tertiary education sector by £365m. Looking ahead, I believe with the right investment - and with collaboration between universities, Jisc and technology providers - we can lead the way in delivering the education model of the future, from personalised learning to exam-free assessment.[#pullquote#]we can lead the way in delivering the education model of the future[#endpullquote#]By drawing together our collective ability in technology and higher education, we’re breaking new ground. The sector is invigorated with a drive to engage students and deliver future-proofed skills. Now is the moment to support institutions and leading-edge programmes to promote and progress the UK’s global status.Paul Feldman is speaking alongside universities minister Michelle Donelan at a Foundation for Science and Technology event on the future of education tonight, 25 November 2020, with a supporting podcast streaming tomorrow, 26 November 2020.