Report: UK colleges face testing times with ageing kit, iffy connectivity, and some IT staff supporting 1k+ users

Cloud-first but no 'resilient internet connection'? Oh dear


New research into the IT infrastructure of the UK's higher education sectors does not make happy reading for those wishing to cure all ills with the sticking plaster of "digital".

The infrastructure reviews – published by Jisc (historically the Joint Information Systems Committee) today – took place between 2016 and 2020 and covered 118 institutions, including 59 Further Education (FE) colleges (or just under 28 per cent of the UK's total, according to the report).

The most worrying finding was, unsurprisingly, around funding challenges. A lack of capital investment meant that creaking infrastructure was being kept going past the point where it might be considered a little out of date.

A withdrawal of vendor support for obsolete gear created what Jisc delicately called "a difficult cyber-security posture". The research went on to note that most colleges found managing the upgrade cycle of both end user kit and infrastructure "very difficult".

Robin Ghurbhurun, Jisc's managing director of further education and skills, commented: "The government's announcement on 19 August that it had released £200m for 180 colleges to spend on physical and digital infrastructure is welcome, but is it not enough to solve the underlying digital challenges caused by years of under-investment."

Indeed, Jisc found that historic budget squeezes had seen IT support teams in FE reduced, with the average support-staff-to-user ratio standing at an unhealthy 814:1 (2,767:1 was the worst) thanks mainly to simple attrition and cost-saving over the years. It also noted that training was not always up to snuff.

More serious was the finding that, among problems with networking, "only a small minority of FE colleges have a resilient internet connection".

While this may have been annoying in the old, on-premises world, Jisc noted that most colleges had shifted services such as email and calendaring into the cloud, where decent connectivity is a must.

Microsoft 365 was the tool of choice for many, with a few going down the G Suite path or running an on-premises Exchange Server. Novell Groupwise had "been all but eliminated".

Funding woes continued into servers and storage provision, and the authors of the research remarked that for most colleges, "the growth in the use of SaaS has not been matched by the use of IaaS," before recommending a hybrid model.

Mobile Device Management (MDM) came in for criticism and while the majority of colleges were able to keep Microsoft's code patched and up to date, third-party software management was "often not as rigorously enforced".

There was a glimmer of light, however. Those institutions taking IT seriously enough to have a CIO, CTO, or similar senior role were better placed to make the right spending decisions at the right time over the entire organisation, according to the report.

Researchers noted that the best performing IT teams were led by bosses who both understood the business (the college) and had a decent experience base. "Staff turnover may be lower," it said, "where staff are supported and developed into their roles."

Not unlike the IT industry at large... ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Research finds consumer-grade IoT devices showing up... on corporate networks

    Considering the slack security of such kit, it's a perfect storm

    Increasing numbers of "non-business" Internet of Things devices are showing up inside corporate networks, Palo Alto Networks has warned, saying that smart lightbulbs and internet-connected pet feeders may not feature in organisations' threat models.

    According to Greg Day, VP and CSO EMEA of the US-based enterprise networking firm: "When you consider that the security controls in consumer IoT devices are minimal, so as not to increase the price, the lack of visibility coupled with increased remote working could lead to serious cybersecurity incidents."

    The company surveyed 1,900 IT decision-makers across 18 countries including the UK, US, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia, finding that just over three quarters (78 per cent) of them reported an increase in non-business IoT devices connected to their org's networks.

    Continue reading
  • Huawei appears to have quenched its thirst for power in favour of more efficient 5G

    Never mind the performance, man, think of the planet

    MBB Forum 2021 The "G" in 5G stands for Green, if the hours of keynotes at the Mobile Broadband Forum in Dubai are to be believed.

    Run by Huawei, the forum was a mixture of in-person event and talking heads over occasionally grainy video and kicked off with an admission by Ken Hu, rotating chairman of the Shenzhen-based electronics giant, that the adoption of 5G – with its promise of faster speeds, higher bandwidth and lower latency – was still quite low for some applications.

    Despite the dream five years ago, that the tech would link up everything, "we have not connected all things," Hu said.

    Continue reading
  • What is self-learning AI and how does it tackle ransomware?

    Darktrace: Why you need defence that operates at machine speed

    Sponsored There used to be two certainties in life - death and taxes - but thanks to online crooks around the world, there's a third: ransomware. This attack mechanism continues to gain traction because of its phenomenal success. Despite admonishments from governments, victims continue to pay up using low-friction cryptocurrency channels, emboldening criminal groups even further.

    Darktrace, the AI-powered security company that went public this spring, aims to stop the spread of ransomware by preventing its customers from becoming victims at all. To do that, they need a defence mechanism that operates at machine speed, explains its director of threat hunting Max Heinemeyer.

    According to Darktrace's 2021 Ransomware Threat Report [PDF], ransomware attacks are on the rise. It warns that businesses will experience these attacks every 11 seconds in 2021, up from 40 seconds in 2016.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021