Decision to back Jisc ‘should be a no-brainer’

As new funding model looms, technology body’s incoming chief executive acknowledges some services may need cutting but highlights organisation’s value to higher education sector

August 25, 2015
Paul Feldman, Jisc chief executive
Plug in: Paul Feldman says Jisc has a ‘bright future’ but must ‘step up’ to the task of showing the value of its services

Continued funding council and university support for UK higher education’s main technology body should be a “no-brainer”, its incoming chief executive has said.

Paul Feldman, who will join Jisc in mid-October, told Times Higher Education that the organisation would have to redraw its offering to the sector as it shifts from a centrally funded model to one in which subscribing institutions contribute to its costs.

Questions have also been raised about support for Jisc from funding councils, with Dr Feldman’s predecessor, Martyn Harrow, saying earlier this year that the “bet is off” on Jisc’s definitely surviving future spending cuts.

But Dr Feldman, currently an executive partner at technological research company Gartner UK, said Jisc deserved the sector’s backing.

“It’s a no-brainer,” he said. “Will we have to cut some cloth to fit? Absolutely. But will the heart of our services still remain and the value that we add still be there? I have to believe that to be the case.”

Under the new funding model, subscribing universities meet about a fifth of the cost of Jisc’s services, which include the high-speed computer network known as Janet, data storage and shared purchasing of resources.

The remainder is still met by core investors including the funding councils, but institutional subscription, which is currently mandatory, will be optional from 2017.

This led Professor Harrow to warn that UK higher education risked “sleepwalking into disaster” if Jisc’s offering was unbundled or collapsed.

Dr Feldman said he believed that Jisc had a “very bright future”, but he added that the organisation would have to “step up” to the task of persuading institutions that paying for its services was worthwhile.

While Dr Feldman said he was “quite confident” that assets such as Janet would survive, he acknowledged that he would have to apply to other services the commercial experience that he gained in a career with firms such as Barclays and the Nationwide Building Society.

“If we are providing things that no one sees sufficient value in, it will be hard to continue with those,” he said. “But at the same time, there will be things we should do that add a lot of value and people would be prepared to pay for.”

Dr Feldman said Jisc would have to “work very hard” to demonstrate to the funding councils that it provided good value, with the organisation having previously argued that its shared infrastructure delivered annual savings of about £250 million for universities.

At a time of spending cuts and rapid technological change, Dr Feldman – who has a PhD in industrial and business studies from the University of Warwick – said the case for Jisc was stronger than ever.

“I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t think Jisc was a vital part of the landscape,” Dr Feldman said. “The UK has a unique resource in Jisc, and it improves the nation’s competitiveness in so many aspects.

“There would be a massive hole if large parts of Jisc weren’t there.”

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