§ Mr. Walden
Two major studies have been undertaken on the potential for the use of advanced computer technology in higher education. A working party on future facilities for advanced research computing considered the likely needs for advanced research computing and the various options open to the university and research council community for acquiring, operating and providing access to the necessary services. The working party was chaired by Professor A. J. Forty of the university of Warwick and reported to the Advisory Board for the Research Councils, the Computer Board for Universities and Research Councils, and the University Grants Committee.
A second working party, under the chairmanship of Miss D. A. Nelson, then director of the computer centre at Hatfield polytechnic, considered the type and level of computing facilities that should be provided for teaching in universities and the services that should be provided by computing centres to support teaching facilities. It reported to the Computer Board for Universities and Research Councils.
§ Mr. Alton
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he is taking to seek to ensure that British universities are able to gather the resources to finance projects to explore the potential uses of advanced computer technology in the university curriculum; what study he has made in this context of project Athena at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Walden
Project Athena is one of a number of overseas university activities that have been taken into account in formulating programmes to develop the use of advanced computer technology for teaching in United Kingdom universities. An important aspect of the project is the use of student work stations, connected by a local area network covering the campus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to enhance traditional teaching methods across a wide range of subjects. This is also the aim of a series of "pump-priming" teaching projects supported through the University Grants Committee and the Computer Board for Universities and Research Councils. Over 100 of these pilot projects are now in operation at a total cost of £7.5 million, including special funding of £1.5 million made available by my right hon. Friend.
Another important objective of project Athena is to design systems that will allow computers built by different manufacturers to communicate freely. This activity is paralleled in the United Kingdom by the support of a Joint Academic Network (JANET) which enables computer systems at university, polytechnic and Research Council sites to talk to each other regardless of machine type or geographical location. This allows the cost-effective sharing of expensive resources. The Department, on the advice of the Computer Board, provides capital and 699W recurrent support totalling £3 million a year for the operation of JANET. In addition my right hon. Friend has made available special funding of £5 million over three years to enhance the scope and speed of the network.