In an effort to help tackle the nation’s growing digital divide, edtech non-profit Jisc has penned a letter to the Local Government Association in a bid to encourage regional authorities to expand student access to free Wi-Fi in public spaces.
Digital skills are and will remain increasingly in demand, with recent research from World Skills UK confirming that 60% of businesses expect their reliance on advanced digital knowledge and expertise will increase further in the next five years alone. However, despite surging demand for such skills, there are concerns that the pandemic has exacerbated levels of digital inequality, thus hindering the nation’s ability to equip aspiring digital professionals with the skills they need to succeed in the field and restricting the talent pipeline.
“It’s crucial we come together to address this, moving quickly and creatively. Extending internet access in public spaces is one solution, which we really hope local authorities will work with us to deliver” – Paul Feldman, Jisc
According to a recent Ofcom announcement, more than 1.5m UK households still lack internet access.
Councils that are already using Jisc’s govroam public sector roaming service are being invited to enable eduroam – a service developed for the education industry, connecting millions of students and staff from colleges and universities across the country.
The initiative could open eduroam to thousands of public spaces across the nation – including libraries, community centres and public halls – widening access to ‘zero touch’ internet connectivity.
“We see this as a springboard to bring about exciting collaborations between Jisc, local government, and national government,” said Jisc CEO Paul Feldman.
“A lack of access to quality, inexpensive connectivity affected many learners during lockdown – and this issue isn’t going away. It’s crucial we come together to address this, moving quickly and creatively. Extending internet access in public spaces is one solution, which we really hope local authorities will work with us to deliver.”
The college and university closures driven by the pandemic highlighted the negative impact of data poverty, which excluded many students from a reliable internet connection or suitable study environment, despite the launch of the government’s Get help with technology scheme. Jisc’s own Student Digital Insights surveys highlighted the issue, finding that 62% of students in higher education (HE) and 36% in further education (FE) still experience poor Wi-Fi connection, while 22% in HE and 15% in FE struggle with mobile data costs when learning online.
“Throughout the pandemic, Jisc has worked with the Department for Education and National Education Sector bodies to help find ways to support college and university students,” added Feldman. “We are now looking for support in tackling digital and data poverty, seeking to improve the range of connectivity options available to students and education staff by local authorities.
“We see this as a great opportunity for Jisc to work closely with local authorities in a collaboration that we hope will help improve digital connectivity for all citizens.”