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Analysis: Educators fear IT budget cuts

Although the weather might have hit the numbers, more than 30,000 visitors were expected to walk the floors of London's Olympia at this year's BETT Show over its four-day span.

One first-time attendee to the education technology show earlier this month expressed amazement at the size of the event. "I had no idea the education technology market was so big. All the major names are involved and it seems to be a huge market," he said.

Some of the biggest brands in the IT world jostled for attention, with Intel, Microsoft and HP all proclaiming the products and services they could offer schools and colleges. There were also the specialists, with Viglen, RM, Centerprise and the likes of Promethean all vying for the attention of visitors to the show.

But just as that awestruck, first-time visitor commented, the market is big. It has grown in recent years, and a large part of that expansion is thanks to the government. Without delving too much into the many and varied programmes that are running, it is fair to surmise that the current government has done a lot to increase the amount of technology in schools.

But with the election looming, a shadow hangs over the future of this IT investment, with the Conservatives talking about making cuts to public spending, the Liberal Democrats speaking about a need to be realistic, and a more sober-sounding chancellor indicating that belts will have to be tightened.

So it was perhaps with a view to events later this year at the polling stations that Intel made its plea at BETT for investment in education to continue to ensure that the UK produces world-class students that could enable the country to compete.

But that sense of fear over future spending is widespread. As Stone Group found in a survey, most schools are bracing themselves for a budget cut for the first time in a couple of decades.
The survey revealed that 82% of schools expect to see funding reduced in real terms over the next fiscal year, and 84% pointed to budgetary constraint as the main concern influencing the provision of IT.

"Failure to respond to the challenges posed by budget cuts will undoubtedly result in a decline in the quality of ICT delivery," said James Bird, chief executive at Staffordshire-based Stone Group.

"The pressure is now on to consider just how to retain standards with vastly reduced funding," he added.
 
One answer is to lean more on resellers which could help provide some services at competitive prices and outsource the headache that many educational establishments face as they battle to deal with IT issues internally.

This was first published in January 2010

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