Job skills boosted with free laptops

September 8, 2000

Hundreds of new entrants to two Scottish universities, Strathclyde and Paisley, are about to be greeted with the ultimate in "freebies" - a laptop that aims to make them more employable.

Strathclyde is bidding to be Europe's first "Thinkpad University" through a deal with computer giant IBM. It is issuing free, top-of-the-range Thinkpad laptops to more than 350 first-year business students. The move follows an investigation by IT staff into the use of laptops in higher education in the United States. The university is investing more than Pounds 500,000 in the Thinkpads and a new interactive classroom in the business school.

The deal with IBM was struck after a full tendering process, with the company able to meet a demanding product and service specification backed by a full service guarantee. IBM manufactures its European, Middle East and African supply of Thinkpads in neighbouring Greenock.

The business course includes an "integrative core" of management-style training in core skills, such as problem solving and teamwork.

The laptop initiative is part of Strathclyde's "millennium student" project, which has already seen internet access in student bedrooms in halls of residence; phone services in bedrooms, with free calls to other residences; and interactive teaching rooms, through which staff can see when students are having problems.

Strathclyde's principal, Sir John Arbuthnott, said: "We're determined to do everything possible to give our students a launchpad into a top-flight career where being confident with IT is a prerequisite."

If Strathclyde wanted to be a world-class university, it had to invest in developing its teaching and learning resources, he said. "If we fail to do that, we're not giving our stakeholders value for money. These new Thinkpads, together with our in-house mobile phone network, mean students can sit down anywhere, switch on, and work together on all sorts of exercises."

Val Belton of Strathclyde's business school said the Thinkpads would help students communicate with their peers and tutors, as well as giving them access to specialised computer-based teaching and learning tools.

Paisley was more coy about the details of its deal and said that negotiations were commercially sensitive. But it admitted it would be investing up to Pounds 125,000 in laptops as part of a student support package in its faculty of communications, engineering and science. It said its students already had access to advanced facilities and laboratories in the university, and had the chance of undertaking a one-year paid work placement as part of their degree course. But the faculty believes that providing laptops loaded with the latest Microsoft packages will improve students' academic experience through increased access to computing facilities, both in the university and at home.

Alan Roach, dean of the faculty, said: "It will undoubtedly be a boost for our students and will give them greater flexibility in their studies by providing computer access no matter where they are. We believe that by providing laptops for first-year full-time students in our faculty, we will equip them with cross-disciplinary skills that will make them extremely appealing to employers."

Gerry Edwards, managing director of National Semiconductor in Greenock, predicted the initiative would be "a huge success".

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