Microsoft is to scrap its costly certification regime for professional training in its products. Instead, it is asking academic institutions to sign up to provide training with a scheme it promises will in turn make them money.
The move, according to Microsoft, aims to address the UK's IT skills gap. It argues that it will make training more affordable for students and that modules could be used towards degrees.
Malcolm Crowe, head of Paisley University's computing and information systems department, said Microsoft had long been keen to get academic recognition. The department has aligned some of its undergraduate module descriptors, for example in database design and operating systems, with the Microsoft courses. It also teaches modules specific to other firms, including Cisco Systems and Macromedia.
Mr Crowe said: "Students are interested in vendor recognition. If they feel they will get training, for example, in advanced Cisco Systems, they will come in in the evening. There are so many IT courses and so many of them industry consider useless. When we say our courses are attractive to industry, we can back this up."
Steve Ballmer, chief executive officer of the software giant, launched the Microsoft IT Academy Programme in central London this week to an audience of representatives from UK education. Schools, colleges and universities were invited to become Microsoft academies, offering company-certified training in Microsoft products to schoolchildren, students, parents, businesses and any other interested parties.
Any academy would receive Microsoft teaching materials and software at a discounted price and would offer courses in the company's systems and products - excluding exam fees of £80 - at about £100 a module. The academy would pay a membership fee from £560 to £1,750 depending on the courses to be offered.
Until now, the Microsoft training providers charged about £600 a module. Consequently, very few students could afford them.
Paisley has applied to become a regional centre for the Microsoft programme, coordinating academies in the area. The department makes up to £1 million a year from corporate training courses and does not expect to profit from training students.
Geoff Cutts, head of business development at the school of computing and management sciences at Sheffield Hallam University, said the programme would help train local people in IT skills. This would be fundamental to helping to fill an expected 3,750 jobs to be created by the new e-campus science park proposed for central Sheffield.