Higher education IT staff and systems are underpinning moves to offer lifelong learning across the United Kingdom, a leading specialist has said.
Jean Sykes, librarian and director of information services at the London School of Economics, cited projects in Yorkshire, Glasgow, Sunderland, the West Midlands and Wales in which universities and colleges are working with other libraries and archives, often through local metropolitan area networks (MANs). These schemes are ensuring that information is available to learners and researchers at all levels, she said.
The London MAN will be launched officially as an independent company next week. London has many stand-alone institutions and a thriving media community. "There is no reason why the London metropolitan network should not connect some of these to the internet if the price is right, remembering the original MAN mission is to ensure optimum support for higher education."
Ms Sykes is director of the M25 Link project, which connects the 38 higher education institution libraries within the orbital route. It aims to link all their catalogues in a single search tool.
"It will be a very powerful tool for researchers, because we reckon it will cover about 15 million books, 20 per cent of the total collections in the UK," she said.
Ms Sykes also chairs the London Learning Network Group, which brings together the M25 consortium, the London Metropolitan Network, further education colleges and a range of other bodies including the Association of London Chief Librarians.
Imogen Wilde, director of curriculum and communications in the Department for Education and Employment's schools directorate, said that within three months the government's broadband review would be finished.
This review aims to recommend how Janet, the national learning network for further education colleges and higher education institutions, and the local education authorities' broadband consortia for schools can grow together.
But delegates feared that some strategies were marginalising higher education.