Scottish higher education is poised to set up one of Europe's most advanced information technology networks, with a Pounds 5 million boost from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council.
SHEFC has already put Pounds 2.4 million into setting up Metropolitan Area Networks, a superhighway scheme linking higher education institutions in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife-Tayside and Aberdeen. The new funding will link the four MANs in a Wide Area Network for all 21 higher education institutions.
SHEFC also hopes to fund a connection from the Aberdeen MAN to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, which could be extended to allow the Highlands and Islands to join the network.
Building computer links between medical schools and teaching hospitals is one of 30 pilot projects which SHEFC is funding, which aim to exploit the potential of the high-speed, high-capacity network. These include establishing video conferencing facilities, developing a multimedia music network which can be used for interactive distance learning and performance, and creating web servers for placing information on the Internet.
John Sizer, chief executive of SHEFC, said: "In the current climate of constrained funding, the creative use of information technology can play a key role in maintaining and developing the effectiveness and quality of Scottish higher education. This new initiative will ensure that Scottish universities and colleges remain at the forefront of the information revolution."
SHEFC's support is likely to extend to backing a pilot project for a Scottish higher education television channel, which is currently being considered by the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals.