The agreement makes it easier for universities to outsource services such as student and staff email to Google after university network infrastructure provider Janet, part of Jisc, approved a contract that confirms Google’s services meet its standards.
The so-called “Cloud Services for Education Agreement” is designed to give colleges and universities peace of mind in relation to the security, cost, functionality and legal and data compliance of Google’s educational applications, which include shared documents and spreadsheets, email and website-building tools.
Lecturers can also run seminars on “Google Hangouts”, allowing students to take classes online, while shared calendars can allow groups of students and staff to co-ordinate meetings.
A similar agreement was recently signed in the Netherlands, and half of the country’s universities and colleges have now moved at least part of their provision to the Google Applications for Education suite of tools.
Jisc estimates that the agreement will save each UK higher education organisation approximately £20,000, because it removes the need for them to conduct their own due diligence before moving services over to Google.
Tim Marshall, Jisc’s executive director of technology and infrastructure, and divisional chief executive of Janet, estimated the total savings to the higher education sector could hit around £14 million once reductions in expenditure on tech support and hardware were taken into account.
“We don’t want to dogmatically dictate what universities should do, but we want to enable them to get the very best,” Mr Marshall said. “My view is you’d be foolish not to do this…but at the end of the day it is down to the institutions themselves to make the choice.”
Many universities have already moved a number of their IT functions to the cloud, including the University of Sheffield.
Christine Sexton, director of the university’s corporate information and computing services, said that although there were concerns within the sector about handing the storage and processing of data over to a commercial organisation, her institution had benefited immensely from the decision.
“Some very big universities – us, York, Bristol – have all gone ‘Google’. Lots have gone a similar direction with Microsoft too, and it hasn’t been an issue at all,” she told Times Higher Education.
“There are still a couple of universities who say ‘email is what we do – we want our data here’. I think that’s a very old fashioned, dated way of running the service. I don’t see that I add a lot of value to my university if I spend my time running email when Google can do it better, and cheaper.”
Liz Sproat, Google’s head of education for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said: “We hope this new framework agreement with Janet will enable even more students, professors, lecturers and teachers to collaborate and communicate more easily whilst also saving money for their educational institutions.”