No PC, no degree?

July 25, 1997

FIRST-YEAR students facing tuition bills may have to add Pounds 500 for a basic portable computer. Dearing expects that by 2005/6 all students will need their own portable computer (Rec 46).

Committee members who visited the United States in January noted the growing number of university courses operating "no PC, no degree" policies. They figured that United Kingdom students should be able to find Pounds 500 for one of the lower-cost notebook computers that have appeared this year. Typically these machines run Microsoft's Windows CE operating system and are adequate for word processing, email and basic Internet access.

The report envisages student spending on portable computers rising to Pounds 150 million by 2001/02. It suggests that during a transition period, National Lottery money could help students pay for PCs.

Institutions would eventually be able to cut spending on desktop computers and the costly real estate they occupy. But they will save little before 2002/03 if they pursue Dearing's recommendation to increase the number of desktop computers from one for every 16 students to one for every five. Networked desktop machines costing Pounds 2,800 will be needed for the latest interactive multimedia learning materials, the report explains.

Information technology now consumes between Pounds 780 million and Pounds 1,080 million a year - about 10 per cent of the United Kingdom higher education sector's turnover.

Dearing wants all HE institutions in the UK to have "overarching communications and information strategies" in place by 1999/2000 (Rec 41). This could mean standardisation of hardware and software and postponing or cancelling of projects deemed to be low priority. Institutional management should take a firmer hand over IT, which the report considers "too fundamental to the operation of the institution as a whole to be decided at faculty level".

* See next week's THES for a Multimedia special on IT and Dearing. Proceedings of the fully-booked July 31 colloquium "IT and Dearing" will be published by CTISS, Oxford University.

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