UK education divided in its adoption of the cloud

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Jisc has undertaken a study to look at where cloud can meet the needs of the education sector and if there is an appetite for it.

The results were divided. The study - which surveyed IT and library leads in UK higher education (HE) and further education (FE) – found that although 45 per cent were using cloud for business applications, such as payroll processing and management software, 31 per cent had no plans to deploy cloud for this purpose.

The most popular use of cloud based systems was for student email. Some 80 per cent of respondents were currently deploying this, with only 5 per cent not having plans that took them in this direction in the future.

Jeremy Sharp, director of strategic technologies at Jisc, the national charity that provides digital solutions for UK education and research, explained: 'The findings, although they do seem divided, provide some clear messages: one being that through maturity in the market there are now a huge number of cloud services available, offering different benefits to colleges and universities. It’s only natural then that these services are being deployed by these organisation for sometimes very different reasons, depending on their needs – whether that’s better integration between the cloud and other software products, or because they offer flexibility to scale up or down as requirements change.

'Email cloud based systems in particular were shown to be popular because they not only more flexible for a normal user accessing their account from a range of devices and locations, but they are also a more cost effective solution for the organisation.'

Another popular area was cloud to support research outputs, with 53 per cent of HE providers using private cloud and 34 per cent using public cloud. There was also a clear trend for use in learning spaces and platforms, such as Canvas or hosted Moodle.

Sharp added: 'Popularity in these areas makes it clear that collaboration and the sharing opportunities offered by the cloud are a key benefit and driver for adoption in both further and higher education. Collaboration saves both time and money and the cloud supports this approach.

'By sharing data and resources tasks organisations are able to learn from each other, supporting innovation and quality. We have seen this for ourselves in the Jisc data centre, which has been established specifically for education and research organisations. Some of the biggest names in UK research have co-located their data to our centre, awarding them opportunities to be more collaborative and improve the speed and quality of research – for example, the creation of eMedLab, a high performance computing cluster that’s improving medical bioinformatics research.'

Some 61 per cent selected financial issues as the main challenge faced when trying to use cloud technologies. The second largest issues was security concerns, at 48 per cent, closely followed by legal concerns on 47 per cent.

Lastly, respondents were asked if there are any other cloud services they would like Jisc to provide. The most popular response was ‘disaster recovery’. Sharp concluded: 'At Jisc we will be using these findings and the findings from the full report to develop services for the future. This information will allow us to continue to broker deals with cloud providers that better meet the needs of our customers and reduce their concerns.'

The survey was completed by 38 HE and 37 further education FE providers.