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October 8, 2009

UK universities sign up to Google Apps

Cloud-based tools for students

By Steve Evans

Google has signed deals with a number of UK universities to provide thousands of students with access to the free suite of messaging and collaboration tools including Google Mail, Docs, Sites and Chat.

The University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Portsmouth and De Montfort University have signed up to Google Apps Education Edition.

The deal will see over 60,000 students at the two Sheffield establishments given access to email, messaging and shared calendar applications, enabling them to schedule lectures, communicate and collaborate with lecturers and other students and organise society events.

Google hopes that the deal will familiarise students with its Apps platform in preparation for their professional careers, so they are ready to use it when they start work and may even encourage the adoption of it in the work place.

“As students take their university account with them after they graduate, they can keep access to their work and easily stay in touch with tutors and peers. The move of many universities to the cloud is not just about the substantial cost savings they can achieve, but increasingly about providing students with the tools which will be of use beyond their studies and in the world of work, where Google Apps is becoming increasingly prevalent,” said Samantha Peter, business development manager, Google Enterprise.

Aline Hayes, director of information systems and technology at Sheffield Hallam University agreed. “Sheffield Hallam prides itself on preparing students for the commercial world beyond study. Through using Google Apps, our students will become familiar with a set of tools which they are likely to encounter beyond their studies.”

The University of Portsmouth has supplied Google Apps for 34,000 students. Andrew Minter, director of information services at the University, said that collaboration between staff and students was one of the key reasons for the adoption.

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“Google provides the sort of integrated system students have been crying out for. It offers a whole package of collaborative applications our students want allowing them to work together online in real time. As well as email, they can use instant messaging, share documents with other students, clubs and societies, set up their own web pages, and build their own calendars which will soon have personalised timetables incorporated so every time they log on it’s all there,” he said.

De Montfort University, where over 20,000 students have joined the cloud-based scheme, is already seeing the benefits. “Within two months we had implemented the platform and embedded the email and calendar services directly into our student portal. This has enabled us to rapidly place Google Apps right at the heart of our student experience, giving us the ability to drop time-tabling information directly into the students’ personal calendars, if they choose to opt-in, and the response we have had so far has been nothing short of amazing – Google Apps has helped to create a real ‘buzz’ across the University,” said Paul Hopkins, director of information services and systems at the University.

As well as the impact on students, the universities are also hoping for financial and administrative benefits. “Google has far more resources and time to invest in developing email systems and collaborative tools than we do. With the money and time saved through the switch from our traditional in-house IT environment, we will be able to invest more in other areas where we can have a bigger impact in enhancing our students’ experiences,” said The University of Sheffield’s CIO Christine Sexton.

Google Apps is gaining momentum in the workplace as a viable alternative to Microsoft’s enterprise software. In February 2009, The Guardian News and Media Group moved over 2,000 members of staff onto Google Apps, reducing the workload for IT support staff and increasing employee productivity. The Telegraph implemented Google Apps in July 2008, migrating nearly 1,500 users to the hosted platform.


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