A UK college is lending Microsoft Surface devices to every student in a bid to address digital poverty

Middlesbrough College will lend Microsoft Surface devices to every new full-time student in a bid to address digital poverty on its courses.

From the start of the new term in September, the largest college in Teesside will offer devices to around 4,500 new starters on a full-time course, which they will use on campus and at home while they gain their qualification.

When the students graduate, the college will let them purchase their device for a minimal fee, allowing them to continue to use it to apply for jobs and start their careers.

Zoe Lewis, Middlesbrough College Principal and Chief Executive, said: “Like most schools and colleges, the COVID-19 pandemic forced our students to learn remotely. However, some simply didn’t have the technology to do that. While we distributed 700 laptops to students’ home to ensure they could keep learning, we knew that wasn’t a long-term solution. We have to level the playing field to ensure every young person has an equal opportunity at our college.”

Middlesbrough College teaches a total of 13,000 students, with some travelling from nationally-recognised deprived areas across the North East. A report from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) in March found that “the initial [COVID-19] lockdown had a greater impact on disadvantaged pupils than non-disadvantaged pupils and the disadvantage gap widened by Autumn 2020”. A separate report from the NFER in 2020 revealed that schools using phone or video calls to inform pupils about learning activities have three percentage point higher levels of pupil engagement compared to schools that do not use these methods. It added that “access to digital technology is critical, especially for disadvantaged pupils”.

This is why Middlesbrough College recognises the importance of providing technology to all pupils, so they can learn when and where they want. It’s part of a five-year digital strategy that also includes online safety, improving business productivity through using Microsoft 365 and enhancing learning in the classroom to help students become “true digital citizens”.

As part of this plan, Middlesbrough College is looking to work with local broadband providers to ensure that any students who do not have WiFi at home are provided with a broadband connection, free of charge.

Students sit at a desk in college and use Microsoft Surface devices. One screen shows the devices accessibility features

The accessibility features in Microsoft 365 have created an inclusive learning environment for all

“We need a solid digital foundation, which includes having staff with the right skills, hardware that’s easy to use and secure, and systems that talk to each other via the cloud,” Lewis added. “By having those three things in place, we will achieve our goals. We spoke to our teachers and students about the tools they wanted to use, and they loved using Microsoft Teams. They also wanted a device that was reliable and had a long battery life, so that triggered the move to Surface.

“We needed a complete platform that matches our ambitions and Microsoft provides that.”

Lewis also said the college chose Microsoft so students can gain experience with tools they will use in the workplace, while the accessibility features in Microsoft 365 created an inclusive learning environment for all.

Middlesbrough College partnered with HybrIT Services to deliver an end-to-end solution, covering all aspects of the requirement, including supplying and preparing the Surface devices, design and delivery of Azure Virtual Desktop services, device management and asset tracking.

The move to Microsoft will ensure that Middlesbrough College, which also boasts cutting-edge industry training facilities focused on manufacturing, chemistry, food and fitness, will continue to offer the highest standard of learning to everyone who enrols on a course. Students will enjoy “mobile, collaborative learning instead of using machines on desks while facing a wall”.

Jennifer King, Executive Industry Advisor for Education at Microsoft UK, said: “Students will begin their careers at companies and organisations that are embracing flexible working. Because of this, it’s important that they build confidence and skills in this area. Microsoft’s cloud-based tools and services are empowering teachers to provide the best learning experience and prepare young people for the new world of work.”

To learn more about Microsoft’s work in supporting education, click here.