JASPER Further Education Meeting

Martin Hamilton reports on the recent JASPER one day meeting on the expansion of JISC services to cover the FE community.

The goal of this event was to introduce the operators of JISC services to the main bodies in Further Education (FE), and to discuss the issues which will be involved as JISC services are rolled out to FE sites. In addition to the delegates from JISC and JISC services, UKERNA and major national FE organisations (e.g. BECTa, FEDA and NILTA) were also represented.

A number of points of general interest came up during our discussions, which this article attempts to summarise. Perhaps the most significant of these was the sheer number (for many people, including your correspondent ;-) of new acronyms encountered. A glossary (for both HE and FE readers) of the main acronyms has been included in this article, along with associated URLs where appropriate.

According to John Brown, Director of Lifelong Learning at BECTa, there are currently some 426 FE institutions, with 4 million students and 140,000 staff. By comparison, HE has some 112,000 staff and just under 2 million students. As of April 1st 2000 JISC services are available to both HE and FE, although (at the time of writing) there were still some licensing issues to resolve. Alicia Wise, the JISC/DNER Collections Manager, told us that the plan was to deal with these as they arose for the time being - to gauge the scale of the problem.

JISC is also (via UKERNA) arranging for all FE institutions to be connected to the JANET network at 2 Megabits/second or above, to form the National Learning Network. A budget of 74 million pounds over three years has been set aside for this under FEFC circular 99/18 - with completion of the initial connections component expected by March 2001. It has been decided that FE institutions will not be subject to JANET usage charges for the next two years.

Although it appeared to be a commonly held belief that FE sites would be heavily dependent on the HE sector for advice on local and wide area networking issues, we were reminded by Bob Powell (Head of FE at BECTa) that 80% of computers in FE are networked - to something! Previously many FE sites were connected to the Internet via other means (e.g. via RM's network), but JANET access is being provided at no cost. This represents a major cost saving for many institutions, but has to be considered in conjunction with the additional services which the site may have to put into place.

Peter Harding, ILT manager at South Cheshire College, noted that firewall and content filtering services had been provided as part of the overall RM package. Since some of these value added services (in particular content filtering) were not typically offered by HE institutions, there would in any case be only limited scope for the HE sector to offer advice in these areas. To pick up on the content filtering example - FE institutions have a legal responsibility (duty of care) with regard to their students who are also minors.

Peter Trethewy, Director of Learning Resources at Bromley College, gaves us a flavour of the scope of FE activities - his site has students with learning difficulties, HE affiliated students (including some doing PhDs :-), an 86 year old studying IT, and also some students who were previously excluded from school.

This led to a lively discussion of concerning the fraction of FE institutions which are a) internally networked, and/or b) connected to the Internet - i.e. what proportion of FE sites are likely to need assistance and in which areas. As it happens, both Peters had been operating Websites since 1996, but those present were unclear as to whether these sites were the exception or the rule. However, there are a number of surveys which have been conducted recently (by BECTa and others) which may shed some light on this.

Both of these sites had connected external sites of their own and related organisations, e.g. South Cheshire was acting as ISP for some 15 small to medium sized businesses, 12 primary schools, 3 feeder schools and several other parties - using DHCP for dynamic addressing to avoid renumbering problems. It follows that HE institutions (even those involved in metropolitan/regional area networking) may turn out to have less experience dealing with third party connections than many FE sites! HE sites may also not have been forced (as yet) to deal with issues such as renumbering of their staff/student IP addresses due to retaining a single ISP (JANET) or "owning" their own netblock - for sites which registered before global route aggregation began.

Of course in practice the JISC services would be unlikely to deal with queries about basic TCP/IP networking, since this is within the scope of the recently announced FE Regional Support Centres. Conversely, many people wondered, what might the RSCs be expected to know about the JISC services in order to sensibly answer queries? There were several comments to the effect that hierarchical support structures for JISC services may be overstretched if RSCs are inserted between the subscribing site and the services themselves. Several representatives of JISC services noted that there had already been some take up of their services within FE, and this had been noted as part of their reporting to the MAU and TAU.

There were several broad conclusions to the day's discussions:


  • Need to clarify the relationship between the JISC services, the RSCs and the end user FE sites.
  • Need for a coordinated approach to publicising JISC services within FE, due to the size of the community, and the danger of information overload resulting from multiple simultaneous promotional activities by different services.
  • Specialist contacts need at FE sites to be identified, as done with existing HE sites.
  • Electronic fora such as mailing lists may provide an efficient way to link service providers with the relevant FE personnel.
  • Discussions have been largely focussed on the existing services, whose development has been driven by HE. FE is unlikely to make the same demands of the same services.

Acronym Alert!

Acronym Meaning URL
BECTa British Educational Communications and Technology agency http://www.becta.org.uk/
FEDA Further Education Development Agency http://www.feda.ac.uk/
FEFC Further Education Funding Council http://www.fefc.ac.uk/
FEILTC FEFC ILT advisory committee  
FENTO Further Education National Training Organisation http://www.fento.co.uk/
FERL FE Resources for Learning http://ferl.becta.org.uk/
HEFCE Higher Education Funding Council for England http://www.hefce.ac.uk/
HEFCW Higher Education Funding Council for Wales http://www.niss.ac.uk/education/hefcw/
JANET Joint Academic Network http://www.ja.net/
JISC Joint Information Systems Committee http://www.jisc.ac.uk/
JASPER JISC Academic Service Providers to Education and Research http://www.jisc.ac.uk/services/
learndirect Ufi's flagship service http://www.learndirect.co.uk/
LSC Learning and Skills Council - to replace FEFC and the TECs. There will be 47 local LSCs and a national one.  
MAU Monitoring and Advisory Unit of the JISC http://www.mau.ac.uk/
NILTA National Information and Learning Technologies Association http://www.nilta.org.uk/
NGfL National Grid for Learning http://www.ngfl.ac.uk/
NLN National Learning Network http://www.nln.ac.uk/
QUILT Quality in Information and Learning Technology http://www.feda.ac.uk/Quilt/
RSC Regional Support Centre http://www.jisc.ac.uk/pub99/c06_99.html
SFEFC Scottish Further Education Funding Council http://www.sfefc.ac.uk/
SHEFC Scottish Higher Education Funding Council http://www.shefc.ac.uk/
TAU Technical Advisory Unit of the JISC http://www.tau.ac.uk/
TEC Training and Enterprise Council  
Ufi University for industry - see learndirect http://www.ufiltd.co.uk/
UKERNA United Kingdom Education & Research Networking Association http://www.ukerna.ac.uk/

It may also be useful to bear in mind the use in FE of the following terms:

  • IT - PCs on desks
  • ICT - networked IT
  • ILT - using ICT for learning and teaching

...and that the post-Dearing HE jargon "C&IT" is equivalent to ICT.

Author Details


Martin Hamilton
JANET Web Cache Service development coordinator,
Computing Services, Loughborough University


Date published: 
Friday, 23 June 2000
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