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  • University spends half a million pounds on new laptops for students

    The University of Bradford spent half a million pounds buying 900 new Lenovo laptops at the height of the pandemic to make sure every student could continue to study during lockdown.

    When the covid pandemic struck in March 2020, University of Bradford reacted swiftly, sourcing around 80 new laptops and delivering them to students around Leeds, Bradford, Keighley and Howarth.

    However, staff knew that if lockdown continued after the summer break, some of its students would be hit particularly hard by a switch to remote learning because not all would have access to laptops. It therefore earmarked £500,000 to buy brand new equipment.

    One of biggest challenges

    But that was easier said than done because at the time, there was an overwhelming demand for laptops, including from the Government, which had placed huge orders with manufacturers.

    In addition, the University’s IT department faced one of its biggest challenges. In the matter of just a few weeks, it was tasked with taking the University’s entire curriculum online.

    That required staff to work around the clock and over weekends to ensure the infrastructure was in place, tested and ready to serve over 10,000 students and over 800 staff. It’s a process which one of the University’s own IT experts, Professor Sankar Sivarajah, previously admitted would normally have taken about two years… and yet it was done in less than two weeks.

    And following discussions with Lenovo and distributor Getech, the University of Bradford was able to secure 900 new laptops, 600 of which have already been ‘loaned’ to students, with another 300 due to go out soon.

    Working around the clock

    IT director Juliette Atkinson recalls having a conversation with colleagues about contingency plans before the lockdown was introduced on March 16, 2020.

    “We explored building a new network in case everyone had to be sent home,” she says. “Although we had not got to that stage, we felt that we should be prepared for the eventuality.”

    In fact, they ended up building four new ‘networks’, essentially new platforms on computer servers, which could support remote learning.

    In addition, other engineers worked to ‘bench’ hundreds of laptops (ensuring essential software could be downloaded to new laptops automatically), volunteering to work evenings and weekends.

    “Our engineers worked tirelessly round the clock to get the move on-line completed,” says Juliette. “They were working all through the day and then into the evenings, including Saturday and Sunday, so that we could get the infrastructure in place. We deployed in 10 days, from ‘design’ to ‘go-live’.”

    A crucial component of the whole operation was a tie-up with Lenovo, which managed to source new laptops by September, mostly for students, at a time when the supply chain had effectively collapsed due to overwhelming demand.

    Juliette continues: “It has been and continues to be a huge challenge but it’s an example of how our University went above and beyond to offer support.”

    Part of the changes which have taken place have seen the introduction of an ‘IT bar’ – a one-stop shop for staff and students experiencing issues with their laptops, which will come into its own once campus re-opens.

    Students praise ‘free’ loan scheme

    The University’s long term laptop loan scheme means students can access up-to-date technology for the duration of their degree at no cost.

    The results were well received by students.

    Jodie Metcalfe, a first year Healthcare Science Apprenticeship BSc (Hons) student, says: “My studies were going okay until my personal computer broke. Then when covid hit, I was unable to use university facilities and the restrictions meant I couldn’t get on campus, plus I have my children to think about.

    “My lectures and seminars were called off and replaced by online classes. I simply couldn’t get by just using my phone. My course involves complex documents, lab reports and analysis. Without a computer, I couldn’t continue my apprenticeship. The University helped reduce my stress and the laptop has been so valuable – a huge thank you for the support which has really helped my studies.”

    Second year student Anwar Ali says: “It’s helped me be a better student. I can now complete assignments quicker and more efficiently. I have much more confidence due to this laptop.”

    Michelle Ratcliffe, a third-year Forensic Science BSc (Hons) student, adds: “I had limited and at times no access to a computer and I couldn’t get to the University for normal study. The project the University rolled out was an immense benefit. The free laptop I received was brilliant and I’ve been able to overcome the difficulties and complete work on my dissertation.”

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