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Jisc news

Ten businesses have been shortlisted in our 2019 edtech startups competition and will compete for five mentorships worth up to £10,000 at next month's Digifest.

The mentorships are offered by Jisc, Emerge Education and other industry experts with the possibility of up to £5,000 funding and additional focused support worth £5,000. 

Our ten shortlisted startups

Connect2Teach Limited
Connecting industry experts to online course providers to develop and deliver relevant courses and increase enrolment, engagement and employability.

miFuture App
This app provides better way of connecting school leavers with the world of work, offering them personalised career options in a format that tech-savvy young people will be familiar with.
A student-to-student tutoring platform where students and alumni can teach and learn a variety of skills from each other.

PocketConfidant - AI SAS
Provides a 24/7 private, confidential self-coaching robot assistant to help students to step back, reflect, clarify what is stopping them from meeting their goals, and create intentions and outcomes focused on their personal needs and desires.

This uses machine learning to digest any research paper, book chapter or report into a summary flashcard that you can read on any device, instantly giving you background reading, key facts and findings.

StudyBundles - trading as CampusConnect
This mobile app service connects students with fellow applicants and student ambassadors prior to enrolment, helping to improve pre-arrival engagement and boost offer-enrolment conversion rates.

Third Floor Systems Ltd
StudentCRT is a web-based student experience and wellbeing monitor which aims to help protect student lives by quickly identifying those who may be struggling, so they can be followed up by responsible staff before matters escalate.

Tlero positively engages students through its an anonymised and bespoke mental health platform, helping to identify three of the main mental health issues students face - stress, anxiety and depression – and offering positive and relevant content to support them.

A digital tool to help match students to higher education institutions with the right learning and social environments so they can thrive at university and their future careers.

A medical training platform using virtual and augmented reality to transports users into realistic, hard-to-access, environments and safely assesses them under pressure to improve performance.

The edtech startups competition is the second element of our edtech launchpad programme, which also includes the edtech challenge for students with product ideas.

Sue Attewell, head of change - further education (FE) and skills at Jisc, said:

"The standard of entries has been improving year on year and we had a hard time shortlisting with much robust discussion from the panel. 

"It was good to see a number of entries relating to student wellbeing, as these kind of apps have potential to reduce student harm and promote mental and emotional wellbeing by providing them with personalised support.

"The focus on AI is also welcome because of the capacity this technology has has to make meaningful insights that can help to empower students and improve educational outcomes."

The shortlisted startups will be pitching their ideas at Digifest, 12-13 March 2019

Universities and colleges will find it easier to set up and use Internet of Things (IoT) technology as a solution to some of their challenges, following a collaboration between Jisc and The Things Network (TTN), provider of a global network for IoT devices.

Under the arrangement, universities and colleges that use our services can access the long range wide area network (LoRaWAN) type of wireless network, which is specifically intended for IoT technologies.

This allows us to provide education organisations with a dedicated LoRaWAN network and portal, while still being part of the TTN international network.

LoRaWAN is designed to allow connected devices such as sensors and vehicle equipment to communicate small amounts of data over large distances using tiny amounts of power. Because of their low power consumption, these remote sensors or actuators can run for many years on a single battery.

Stimulating innovation

IoT has already enabled new, disruptive services and solutions in areas such as asset tracking, smart environment and smart cities. The aim of this collaboration is to stimulate innovation and accelerate the adoption of low power networking technologies (LPWAN) from the universities and colleges involved.

The collaboration between Jisc and TTN brings together two well-established organisations allowing LoRaWAN connectivity and encouraging innovation. Under the agreement we will run an instance of the public TTN community network server on the Janet Network infrastructure allowing members to manage gateways and sensors via a Jisc dedicated portal.

The agreement is expected to benefit institutions developing an intelligent campus that responds to human and environmental interactions and adapts to meet students' needs.

Some already use IoT in libraries and for managing the campus, but we are encouraging them to go further as part of our Education 4.0 vision for a campus experience that prepares students for the fourth industrial revolution and beyond.

"Fluid campuses"

Andy McGregor, deputy chief innovation officer, Jisc said:

"We are delighted to be working with The Things Network to explore new uses for IoT in higher and further education.

"If used ethically and with the involvement and trust of students and staff, then we can use IoT to build more fluid campuses that respond to the needs of students and staff and are more rewarding and intuitive to use. They could also potentially help to cut down on the administrative tasks for researchers and teachers."

The announcement comes ahead of a workshop offering an introduction to LPWAN and LoRaWAN technology run by Jisc in collaboration with Digital Catapult.

The workshop on Friday 15 February 2019, is aimed at people interested in IoT and the intelligent campus. It will also be an opportunity to meet SMEs working in this area and to help shape a Jisc and Digital Catapult initiative, which will be announced at the event, to encourage the education sector to experiment with this technology.

Commenting on this initiative, Andy said:

"Through the partnership with TTN, we are looking forward to working with a small number of universities to carry out trials that start to explore some of these possibilities."

Alexander Overtoom, vice president for business development at The Things Industries, said:

"We are really pleased to announce this partnership with Jisc, allowing students and researchers to have dedicated access to the public instance of The Things Network. This is going to bring forward many new use cases for the LPWAN industry and foster innovations across the universities involved." 

Students who have trouble reading will benefit from a new project that aims to highlight how e-book publishers and digital platform providers can improve their accessibility advice to users.

Digital content should be more accessible than hard copy print, allowing all students – and particularly disabled students – to be more productive and independent. But universities and colleges find it difficult to guarantee that disabled students will find books on their reading lists that are compatible with assistive technologies.

The ASPIRE (accessibility statements promoting improved reading experience) project used an open, crowdsourced approach to turn a negative problem into a positive collaboration across 49 higher education institutions and a wide range of academic suppliers.

Leading this project was Jisc's subject specialist in accessibility and inclusion, Alistair McNaught, who said:

"Many e-book suppliers have good accessibility, but poor information about it. An afternoon's work would massively improve this situation and, more importantly, allow library and disability staff at colleges and universities to prioritise student needs, identifying who will need additional support (and who won't) according to the reading lists they have.

With the ASPIRE project, we wanted to build awareness in the industry and encourage competence and the passion to make a difference to the lives of disabled students."

The ASPIRE audit follows an award-winning e-book accessibility audit that took place more than two years ago, also led by Alistair. The 2016 audit received the National Acquisition Group's Award for Excellence and was shortlisted for the Accessible Books Consortium 2017 International Excellence Award.

The ASPIRE audit allowed more colleges and universities to participate, was less onerous to complete and provided positive, actionable information for suppliers. The focus shifted from the accessibility functionality to the accessibility information.

Using criteria and processes agreed with universities and suppliers, Jisc facilitated librarians in auditing suppliers' accessibility statements. As a result, many library and disability support services are now in a far better position to triage support for their disabled students.

Today, the Jisc-supported Higher Education Commission released findings that show degree apprenticeships may be good in theory but they're not delivering for small employers or disadvantaged students.

Organisations including Jisc, NHS employers, IBM, BAE Systems and more than 40 higher education providers, gave evidence. The Commission also interviewed sector leaders, such as Sir Gerry Berragan, chief executive of Institute for Apprenticeships.

No providers for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)

A new report - degree apprenticeships: up to standard? - reveals that out of 51 approved degree apprenticeship standards, 43% have no providers that are delivering to SMEs and 63% of degree apprenticeships have no or just one provider offering provision for non-levy payers (SMEs).

This new evidence follows widespread sector criticism of the Education and Skills Funding Agency's (ESFA) procurement process, with many high quality education institutions, across all levels of apprenticeship, not receiving funding to meet the needs of SMEs.

Cold spots cut off would-be apprentices

Significantly, the new data shows that degree apprenticeship cold spots could be emerging in existing areas of severe educational and economic disadvantage.

Presenting a double blow for disadvantaged young people, an aspiring apprentice from Norfolk could, on average, have to travel 12 times as far for the nearest opportunities compared to someone from Hammersmith and Fulham.

The Commission calls for additional financial support for prospective degree apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially those from cold spots.  

The report comes at a crucial time, with the government's Augar Review into Post-18 education and funding expected to be published in a matter of weeks.

Employers need flexible qualifications for skills gaps

The length of degree apprenticeships (up to five years) will leave degree apprentices 'stranded' due to the absence of 'stop-off points'. This lack of flexibility is particularly relevant for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report recommends building in Level 4 and 5 qualifications, a move which the HE Commission believes will make the provision more accessible for those from disadvantaged areas and cold spots. Employers were also concerned that the design of degree apprenticeships is inflexible and could quickly become out-of-date in relation to future skills needs.

Paul Feldman, chief executive of Jisc and a Higher Education Commissioner, said:

"Genuinely successful lifelong learning relies on an education system that benefits everyone, regardless of background. 

"Degree apprenticeships are a particularly valuable opportunity for those that choose a vocational education path, often starting at school or in further education, who can then progress their learning to a higher level and combine a university education with real-world skills. 

"However, as this report shows, the system needs to become much more flexible to benefit students from disadvantaged areas and the design of degree apprenticeships programmes modernised. 

"It is vital these issues are addressed - our learners need to be equipped with the skills required of the evolving workforce and Industry 4.0, where advanced technologies are transforming jobs, the workplace and how we live and communicate."

Sir Chris Husbands, vice chancellor at Sheffield Hallam University, said:

"An education system fit for the 21st century must ensure the acquisition of both academic and technical skills. Students need that. The nation needs that.

"This report is clear about the potential of degree apprenticeships to make a difference, at the same time as challenging the current model of delivery.

"Sheffield Hallam University has led the way in developing degree apprenticeships. We have seen interest and applications rise significantly over the last two years - but as outlined in the report, more work is needed to support learners.

"We need stable funding arrangements, streamlined administrative procedures for the approval of degree apprenticeships, and longer term policy stability. Putting these measures in place will help to ensure the long-term success of degree apprenticeships."

Recommendations and easy wins

The report recommends a number of 'easy wins' for government to implement. These include:

  • Create equal access for SMEs by permitting HE institutions already delivering degree apprenticeships to big businesses to deliver for small businesses
  • Decrease bureaucracy and costly repetitive processes for employers and providers
  • Ensure standards are approved more quickly, are fit for purpose and flexible to future needs
  • Offer additional financial support for prospective degrees apprentices from cold spots and disadvantaged backgrounds
  • Review the barriers preventing SMEs from taking on the degree apprenticeships that will help them grow and thrive

January 2019 marks the start of a new cyber security collaboration between the national research and education networks (NRENs) in Ireland and the UK.

These two not-for-profit organisations - Dublin-based HEAnet and Jisc in the UK – have agreed a 12-month rolling contract, with Jisc providing protection for Irish universities, colleges and schools from distributed denial of service (DDoS) cyber attacks.

Our DDoS mitigation service already protects all UK further and higher education organisations from this increasing threat.

Designed to disrupt or being down network connections by flooding systems with data, DDoS attacks can be catastrophic for any organisation that relies on the internet. Imagine the chaos if a website, email and finance systems are taken offline, not to mention the effect on teaching and learning if students cannot access digital resources such as e-books, or submit assignments on time.

This new deal has its roots in the long-standing collaborative relationship which has existed between the two organisations for more than a decade. 

Paul Feldman, chief executive at Jisc, said:

"Our research shows that DDoS attacks are increasing against the UK education sector and are rightly considered by our university and college members to be one of the top five security threats - that's why we take DDoS protection so seriously.

"We are delighted to be able to use our knowledge and expertise to help protect Irish organisations, too, and look forward to a continuing partnership."

HEAnet's CEO, Kerrie Power, said:

"DDoS attacks represent a serious and evolving threat to our Irish education and research community. 

"HEAnet is committed to ensuring we have the right tools in place to minimise that threat, and the addition of Jisc's DDoS service will significantly enhance our security services portfolio. Such deals are made possible through the spirit of collaboration which exists between international NRENs."