Education minister David Blunkett hit the news last month with his vision of the e-university. The Minister called for collaboration between UK colleges to launch Web-based courses across the globe and compete with corporations and virtual universities emerging in the US.
It was a shame that Blunkett did not look on his own doorstep, at the fast-developing University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI). The University is set to become a fully Web-enabled institution, delivering academic services electronically over an area from Perth to Shetland, and the Western Isles.
Brian Duffield is chief executive of the project, which has brought together 14 colleges on 28 sites across Scotland. He says the UHI aims to overcome the "tyranny of space" that has marginalised remote communities.
"It is possible through the technological revolution," says Duffield, "to break the mould of the historical approach to educational provision - to move away from a single large campus university - and through IT to take educational opportunities to the people deep in the heart of their communities."
UHI application project manager Drew Gregg says, "E-mail is the lifeblood for the university because it allows students and lecturers to feel as if they are part of one large campus. Travelling can be difficult so we also use a lot of video conferencing to allow students and staff to work together."
The university took four years to develop - two went into establishing the infrastructure alone, says Gregg. This involved convincing education authorities to replace existing college systems and networks with a new broadband wide area network and upgraded local area networks.
Network, e-mail and video conferencing is based on Novell's GroupWise and NDS directory service technology, and was implemented by Metastorm. Cisco Systems provided switches and routers and designated the UHI a regional knowledge academy, where Cisco networking skills will be taught. Library systems, managed by the Web-based OLIB 7 system, allows students to search the catalogue via the Internet.
Funding has come from the Millennium Commission, which provided £33m towards the £95m cost, with contributions from the Scottish Executive and Highland Enterprise.
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