Through the cloud-based pilot, students will gain better access to UK learning materials and resources and synchronous teaching for their studies according to pilot lead, Jisc.

“This pilot aims to give Chinese students the best possible online learning experience”

Supported by sector bodies ucisa, Universities UK International and the British Council, and created in collaboration with Chinese tech company Alibaba Cloud, the pilot will explore how students in China access their virtual learning environments, either via Jisc’s Janet Network or other cloud provider’s networks.

It will also focus on enhancing speed and reliability, accessing specific content, as well as implementation costs.

“Chinese students are key to a thriving higher education sector and this project will help institutions offer them a quality equitable student experience, even though they may no longer be able to physically be on campus in the UK, at least in the short term,” Jisc’s head of international Esther Wilkinson said.

“This pilot aims to give Chinese students the best possible online learning experience reflecting the world-leading quality and academic standards of UK higher education.”

The four UK institutions involved in the trial – The University of Southampton, University of York, Queen Mary University of London, and King’s College London – noted that the project will help students in China access “high-quality” education, as well as improve the student experience.

On completion of the pilot project, support will be extended to benefit students in other countries.

“Wherever they are in the world, we are committed to providing our students with an outstanding learning experience,” said Colin Grant, vice-principal (International) at QMU of London.

“The enhanced access to online resources provided by Jisc and Alibaba’s solution will help our students in China do just that.”

The project is particularly salient given some 23% of all international students studying in the UK are from China, Jisc added.

“Our Chinese students are an important part of our international community and we are passionate about ensuring they can access the high-quality King’s education…whatever their circumstances,” ‘Funmi Olonisakin, vice-president and vice-principal International at King’s noted.

Executive director of iSolutions at the University of Southampton, Mal Allerton, said the service will make it easier for students distributed throughout China to access their online learning resources, “be that static online content or live interactions with staff and other class members”.

“It is important for us that the service is consistently stable so that everyone has the same academic opportunity and becomes an equal part of the University of Southampton,” Allerton said.

Wilkinson at Jisc added: “Alibaba’s solution can be implemented quickly and is ideal for examinations or real-time teaching that now has to take place online in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are exploring how this can be used at scale with a view to creating a sector-wide OJEU-compliant, multi-supplier framework for the UK.”

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