Get back to your technological roots, Jisc urged

April 15, 2010

Poor leadership, a dearth of technological skills and restrictions on funding have been identified as key threats to progress in the academy.

The challenges were flagged up in a poll of delegates at the Joint Information Systems Committee annual conference in London this week. More than a quarter say that the biggest threat to progress is poor leadership at the top, while a similar proportion point to a lack of money as the greatest risk.

Delegates also suggested that a focus on the traditional degree model was stymieing creativity, and raised concerns about flagging technological skills among educators.

The opening debate at the conference, held on 12 April, sought to establish how the sector should respond to financial and technological change.

Cliff Hardcastle, deputy vice-chancellor (research and enterprise) at Teesside University, said that "for universities to be successful requires a major change in organisational culture". Other participants argued for IT to remain a spending priority for universities despite the tough economic climate.

Sarah Porter, head of innovation at Jisc, predicted that the academy would become a small cog within a larger wheel of lifelong learning, with non-traditional students using technology to access materials written by academics and others.

William Dutton, director of the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford, argued that technological innovation in the higher education system would come from outside the sector, not within. When polled on this issue, other delegates agreed.

He appealed to Jisc to "return to its roots" and focus on web-based technology for the sector, providing connectivity for academics. Delegates said they would like Jisc to provide a cloud-computing service for researchers, a development that Ms Porter said was already under discussion.

But debating whether social networking represented a "bold new paradigm" or an era of "social disinteraction" for academics, she said technology had its limits. "We should not underestimate the value of meeting people face to face," she added.

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