Universities capable of running advanced technology could enjoy a competitive edge as students increasingly judge colleges on their green credentials, say higher education IT managers.
Efficient use of IT has helped the University of the West of England (UWE) reduce its carbon footprint and cut costs.
It is a move that will help attract students, said Alistair Sandford, project manager at the UWE, which is ranked equal eighth in the green university league table produced by student campaign group People and Planet.
“We are using 80 per cent less power per client device and less air conditioning as a result,” he said.
“Better IT facilities make a difference in terms of attracting students, and newer universities are in a particularly good position.
“Complexities and upfront investment is an issue, but it can offer a competitive edge.”
UWE runs 1,800 Windows terminals in a Citrix environment, and has been using Citrix software since 1999. The university estimates it has saved £2m over that period with the project breaking even in the third year.
Effective shared services can also help boost student experience. Students work in a virtual learning environment that promotes home working and online interaction alongside the traditional classroom approach.
The university’s 30,000 students and 3,000 staff can access their own personalised desktop wherever they log in. Students can access podcasts of lectures and have virtual discussions, either real-time or forum-based, which are assessed later by the lecturer who can better assess students’ understanding and the level of their contribution.
“Remote access will make a big difference,” said Sandford. “It changes group
dynamics and reduces inhibitions, giving everyone the ability to be part of it.”
Elsewhere, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) has set up a fund for shared IT services projects.
“In Wales there is less of a shared services agenda from the Welsh Assembly, but HEFCW is keen on more collaboration in the higher education sector,” said Chris West, director of library and information systems at Swansea University.
Swansea has formed the south-west Wales HE partnership with Swansea Metropolitan and Trinity College Carmarthen, using systems from Salford Software. The universities share a virtual learning environment, tailored to meet the different requirements of each institution.
And under a shared disaster recovery plan, any of the three establishments can access backup systems at the other two.
“Why have separate administration services and associated IT platforms when you can combine them to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts?” said West.
“We’re the biggest of the two universities and the smaller ones can pick up on our expertise.”