Microsoft is stepping up its fight against rivals by canning the Schools Agreement (SA) in favour of a licensing programme that promises to open up the wider education market to resellers and offers customers more aggressive pricing.
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In a worldwide change from 1 March, colleges and universities will be added to the 'Enrolment for Education Solutions' (EES) subscription agreement alongside secondary and primary schools.
Licensing prices will be calculated on the number of full time employees in an institution - anyone working more than 200 hours a year - rather than PCs, following a trial that Microsoft held with now defunct procurement agency Becta.
Steve Beswick, senior director of education at Microsoft, said per unit license prices will rise by single digits percentage points but argued that the higher ratio of PCs to staff in academic institutions meant overall costs would fall.
"There will be multi-million pound savings for schools in the UK," he told MicroScope.
Microsoft UK's 1,000 Authorised Education Resellers were forced to buy SAs from 19 Ed LARS, but for customers with fewer than 1,000 seats, all channel partners will now be required to EES from distribution at the same discount structure.
"We are opening up the market a bit [for AERs] to include very big schools and low-end colleges," said Beswick.
Customers with more than 1,000 seats will continue to be serviced by Ed LARs which will buy direct from Microsoft.
Mark Simes, commercial director at specialist education reseller European Electronique, praised the changes from Redmond, "they will allow us to compete on a level playing field".
The hope from Microsoft is that EES customers will plough the savings into its other technologies but the firm admitted there was no guarantee of this.
Last year Microsoft recorded a revenue drop of 2% to £90m in the UK IT services and software education space, according to estimates by TechMarketView (TMV).
Tola Sargeant, research director at TMV, said the general downward pricing trend in the market with intense competition among the major players caused the slight decline.
"Going forward Microsoft revenues could be under greater pressure going forward due to the licensing changes," she told MicroScope.