Jisc’s CEO, Paul Feldman

Building on its efforts to tackle #DigitalPoverty, the UK’s education and technology not-for-profit, @Jisc, has written to the Local Government Association, urging local authorities to extend free internet access to students in public spaces. 

Councils that are already using Jisc’s govroam public sector roaming service are being invited to enable eduroam, a service developed for the education sector that connects millions of students and staff at universities and colleges nationwide.

This initiative has the potential to make eduroam available in thousands of public spaces across the country - such as libraries, community centres and public halls – extending access to ‘zero touch’ internet connectivity. 

“We see this as a springboard to bring about exciting collaborations between Jisc, local government, and national government,” says Jisc’s 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 impact of data poverty became clearer during university and college site closures and COVID lockdowns, with many students unable to access reliable connectivity or a suitable study environment, despite the government’s ‘Get help with technology’ scheme. In fact, Jisc’s recent Student Digital Insights surveys found that 62% of students in higher education (HE) and 36% in further education (FE) experience poor wifi connection, and 22% in HE and 15% in FE struggle with mobile data costs when learning online. 

Yet students in England are increasingly studying online or choosing more remote and flexible models. To overcome the digital poverty barrier and make learning as accessible as possible, wherever it takes place, we need to offer the best possible digital environment.  

Feldman reflects: “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. 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. 

He concludes, “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.”  

Jisc operates both eduroam and govroam federated roaming networks for the UK. These networks provide seamless access to the internet at participating sites, making connecting to wifi easy, so students, staff, researchers, NHS professionals and public sector staff can focus on the job in hand without worrying about how to get connected. 

eduroam is present at most universities for staff and students. Its use is growing in further education and across many NHS university teaching hospitals and similar sites in the UK.  

Jisc took the technology used to deliver eduroam and repurposed the idea to provide govroam, a national roaming service that provides the same ‘zero touch’ internet access to public sector staff across the UK. 

Govroam is currently used by 101 local authorities, as well as NHS Trusts, the Local Government Association, and the wider public sector across the UK. 

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