Liberalisation of the UK Higher Education network, a drive for greater economy and efficiency, and the promotion of training and awareness, all emerge as key recommendations in the Five Year Strategy, 1996-2001 published by the Joint Information Systems Committee last month. In his Chairman's Preface, Professor John Arbuthnott spells out JISC's role as one of "facilitating, not dictating or managing" the use of IT across the sector.
The document talks of the advance of the 'virtual university', with services such as electronic teaching materials, bibliographic and statistical datasets and full-text journals distributed to students in geographically remote areas or in their own homes and workplaces. Academic and administrative information will be digitised and networked. The environment in which our staff and students work will see the introduction of multi-service workstations which integrate telephony with multimedia information, smartcards for access to physical and virtual facilities and improvements in admissions and financial information relating to students.
The challenge, in a climate of 'unparalleled financial pressures and an accelerating rate of technological change' is to keep hold of the advantage enjoyed by the UK's HE sector, with its comprehensive high-speed network, SuperJANET, and its international reputation for excellence and innovation in new technology applications.
SuperJANET, which currently provides connections at a minimum of 8Mbps to more than 130 sites, will be replaced next year. With the recent development of Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs), JISC has found a cost-effective way of delivering broadband capacity (34Mbps and above) to institutions, with the potential for collaboration with FE, schools and industry. Unfortunately, the quality of connections enjoyed within the UK community is not matched in its links to Europe, the US and the rest of the world, for political and financial reasons. JISC's response to this problem, meantime, will continue to be based upon greater use of facilities such as mirroring and caching. Efficiency is the driving force behind the entire strategy. Over the past few years, CHEST has already played its part in assisting the community to do more with less through negotiating consortium purchases of software, saving as much as £30M per year. does a similar job in dataset provision, and will look to fill the remaining gaps in subject areas between now and 1998.
The eLib Programme represented a new model of JISC technology funding. Its bidding and project methodology, together with the strong emphasis on evaluation, dissemination and exit strategies, is likely to be adopted more widely in other areas. JISC will continue to innovate, and wishes to play its part in developing a national electronic collection, in partnership with National Libraries, Research Councils, museums, galleries and the private sector. Its remit remains higher education, however, which excludes public libraries from direct support.
Cultural change is as important as technological development. The document states that "successful implementation of information systems into higher education is arguably more a matter of economics, sociology, psychology and even politics than of any technical rationality". Institutions are therefore urged to include human issues in their information strategies.
JISC will restructure its operations in a bid to produce a more streamlined service. A new post of Head of Programmes has been created, with a role which recognises the growing importance of media relations. The number of main sub-committees will be reduced from six to four. ISSC and FIGIT will combine to form the new Committee on Electronic Information (CEI) which will oversee eLib, among other things. The emphasis on awareness and training is recognised by a new Committee for Awareness, Liaison and Training (CALT), and a Federation of Information Services (FIS) will manage the range of subject-based electronic information services.
But the full benefit to the community can only be reached by increasing charges. A new charging algorithm will be developed which "reflects the utility of the network provision to individual sites but minimises the overhead costs of implementation". Our institutions are currently leaping on a bandwidth bandwagon. We should expect the fares to go up shortly.