Janet, the UK education body that sets the standards for technology in schools and universities, has signed a framework agreement with Google that aims to make it easier for educational institutions to deploy Google Apps.
The deal between Google and Janet known as the Cloud Services for Education Agreement, and announced today at Google's office on Tottenham Court Road, London allows UK universities and colleges to sign up to Google Apps for Education using a contract approved by Janet as meeting UK legal requirements.
Google Apps for Education enables students to work together by sharing and collaborating on documents, spreadsheets and presentations. As all documents are stored in the cloud, and accessed via the internet, teachers are able to feedback directly into documents and suggest improvements.
Janet CEO Tim Marshall said that academic institutions have traditionally been reserved when it comes to moving to the cloud, because of a number of issues including security, cost, legal, operational and data location. "These are all things that, by working together as a sector with Google, we can resolve," he claimed.
"The question is do you want to go on your own or do you want to work with the world leaders?" said Marshall. "Do you want to work with companies that our students and our researchers will be working with outside our community? It would be very stupid for us to say that we are giving an excellent education and experience to our students, if they do one thing in house, and then when they go out to the wide world, they meet something else, which they're not trained to deal with. When you're paying £9,000 a year, they will not be too happy about that."
Marshall said that Janet wants to work with Google in the same way it worked with Juniper, SSE Telecoms, and Sienna on the high-speed Janet Network, which serves the UK's research and education community.
Google's head of education for EMEA, Liz Sproat told Techworld: "It's an agreement that all UK universities and colleges can feel really comfortable signing up to. Before we did the Janet agreement, each university would come to us separately and review Google's Apps for Education contract. They might bring on legal to help them understand the clauses, and that could cost quite significant amounts of money and take a really long time."
The agreement will save each institution approximately £20,000 in time and cost, according to Janet.
Google claims that over a third of UK colleges and universities are already using Google Apps for Education, which, in addition to Gmail and Drive (Docs, Spreadsheets and Presentations), also includes Talk, Groups, Calendar and Sites.
However, not all colleges and universities are willing to rely entirely on Google's education platform.
"Of course we offer Office as well," said York University's head of IT services, Heidi Fraser-Krauss. "If you're going to write your dissertation you would not write it in Google Docs because it's not got the functionality. It would be a painful process. Students will tend to use Google Docs to knock something up or do something collaboratively."
Fraser-Krauss said York University would only consider ditching Microsoft Office if Google improves the functionality of its apps.
She did, however, praise the amount of storage that comes with Google Drive. "Every member of staff and every student gets 30GB [free with Google Drive]. If you do the maths on how much it would cost to buy all that storage [physically], it would cost us £300,000."
Fraser-Krauss added that the Janet framework would have saved her nine months if it had been around when York University was deploying Google Apps for Education.
While Google Apps for Education appears to be gaining traction in the education sector, the company's cloud-based Chromebook laptops are proving less popular in some cases.
Fraser-Krauss said: "We don't have many Chromebooks. We've trialled them. Some people like them and some people don't."