Microsoft €˜tax€™ on Linux in schools must end says Becta

Dr Stephen Lucey joined Becta in 2000 and is now their Executive Director (Strategic Technologies). Becta is the Government organisation with oversight of all things ICT in UK schools.

Apart from being a general advocate for ICT in schools, it is charged with providing strategic leadership, technical direction and advice on obtaining best value.

Becta has recently shown that it is unafraid of speaking out on behalf of schools. Unhappy with the value for money schools were getting regarding software licencing they first referred Microsoft to the government’s Office of Fair Trading then sent shock waves through schools when it issued its advice not to upgrade to Windows Vista or Office 2007.

Becta has consistently maintained an interest and a monitoring brief on the progress of Open Source software in education and this interview explores some of their current thinking.

With regard to Becta's recent advice to schools referred to in the introduction, do you think that a respite from the upgrade cycle will cause more schools to consider FOSS as an alternative?

SL: Well the key message in our advice to schools, colleges and other FE providers in relation to Vista and Office 2007, based on extensive research, was that there were no “must have” benefits to compensate for the considerable costs of upgrading. The days of educational institutions just “chasing” the latest release of a product are hopefully, long gone. ICT investments must be based on an assessment of how they will help the institution deliver its educational vision in a cost effective and sustainable way. So I hope our advice will encourage more institutions to think carefully about their ICT spending priorities, and examine the full range of choices that are available to them.

Will this help Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)? Debatable - some educational institutions have an attachment to the philosophy underpinning FOSS, and will adopt it for those reasons. However most institutions do not purchase ICT solutions on the basis of a software development methodology, but on the basis of what best meets their needs. So the major opportunity for FOSS will be via solution providers who can integrate them into an offering which is seen as an overall solution.

To what extent do you feel that modern school ICT reflects vendor-driven change rather than a needs-driven agenda?

SL: I think this is less true nowadays than it was in the past. Educational institutions are developing a more critical understanding of their needs. The move to functional specifications as the mechanism for defining requirements either in Becta’s Frameworks or in BSF procurements is really helping this process. This approach requires the institution to think much more carefully about what it is procuring than would have been the case otherwise. Additionally we have established a Consultancy Framework Agreement. Through this educational institutions and Local Authorities can get access to high calibre advice on how best to frame their requirements.

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