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Higher Ed across the UK leads the way on student BYOD, both on and off campus

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Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has been one of the hot topics of computing for over a decade now, and every IT professional has a view on what BYOD really means for their organization. It's therefore no surprise that in recent months, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, adoption of BYOD has dramatically increased.

In the business world, BYOD is often seen as a way to save the company money by reducing the cost of new IT provision, while improving employee productivity and satisfaction. However, that brings with it a new set of challenges around data security and reliability...

When it comes to Higher Ed, the situation around BYOD is even more complex. You've got both staff and students to support, along with an ever-growing trend for distance/online learning, accredited degree schemes and international partnerships/students.


Student BYOD myths

5 myths of software delivery for student BYOD

  • Support calls will increase
  • Software won’t work on any Windows OS
  • Software licenses don’t cover students
  • Students don’t want to carry laptops around
  • VDI is needed or offline use isn’t possible

In fact, BYOD is somewhat of a misnomer in Higher Ed. It doesn’t just cover devices that are physically brought onto campus / on-site – it’s also about extending managed and campus IT services to the remote learner wherever they may be.

Meanwhile, students have been bringing their own devices to campus for years. They expect to be able to work flexibly with access to IT services, software and apps across multiple devices, choosing the device they are most comfortable with for the task at hand, wherever they are.

Over the past 10 years, that demand has driven a focus on 'mobile first' development for VLE and online services, and the need for ubiquitous Wi-Fi in all teaching spaces and dormitories. Today, fundamentally driven by the COVID-19 crisis and successful pivot of Higher Ed institutions across the globe to supporting online/blended learning, BYOD is less a case of bringing your own device to your place of work (or in this case, study), but rather being able to use your own device at home to access managed IT resources that were previously only available on campus.

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The priorities of Student BYOD in Higher Education

The priorities for student BYOD

Across Higher Ed, we see the following common themes when it comes to key drivers for enabling BYOD.

  1. Ubiquitous Wi-Fi
  2. Virtual learning spaces
  3. Web-based services
  4. Mobile apps
  5. Software delivery

More recently, Universities have released mobile apps – delivering timetabling information, maps, events, alerts and even grades to the student’s pocket device. Yet there has been a general reluctance to extend software delivery to include student laptops and home computers. Why? Because IT departments are uncomfortable supporting software on devices that they don’t control!

It’s not that the technology to support that software delivery use case doesn’t exist. App virtualization has been around for over 10 years. It’s just that deploying software to student-owned laptops seems alien, and for that reason a number of myths persist, even amongst the most enlightened IT professionals.

Yet in a recent survey across 50 universities, 75% of students responded yes when asked "did you expect to access the university software for your course, anytime, anywhere?"

Why is Higher Ed reluctant to make academic software available on BYO devices? Because IT departments are uncomfortable supporting software on devices that they don’t control!


What's the solution to student BYOD?

Fortunately for students, a number of UK universities have been bucking the trend – and with spectacular results...

One of the leading institutions in student IT service delivery, and in offering one of the best student experiences in the entire country, the University of Surrey started delivering software to student laptops way back in 2012!

We asked James Pickett, Surrey University's Digital Productivity Services Manager, what led to that decision: "We recognised that students were struggling to access specialist software which was only available in specific PC labs. Yet, increasingly, students were coming to university with either a laptop or a computer in their dorm room. So we wanted to give students the option to work more flexibly, using the software away from campus, or on their own laptop in the library or other learning spaces.

In looking for a solution, we discovered that the latest generation of app virtualization could deliver 100% of Windows applications on demand and under license control, meaning for the first time we could deliver software applications to non-university computers.

James Pickett, Digital Productivity Services Manager


'Surrey Software' was born...

The university's new app store was a resounding success, with 14,000 students now accessing their course software in the same way from any of the university’s 1,500 lab computers, as well as from their own laptops, on and off campus.

Other universities up and down the UK soon started to follow suit, such as Lancaster University, which launched its service shortly after Surrey back in 2013. Again, the university's goal was to give all staff and students access to specialist academic software on their personally-owned laptops or PCs, wherever they are, on and off campus.

James Pickett continued: "We wanted to make it easier for the students to access the applications in a way that would be familiar to them – so we developed Surrey Software – a University app store to provide on-demand access to almost 500 software titles."


Surrey Software - Application Virtualization and AppsAnywhere at University of Surrey
Surrey Software - a university app store that enables student BYOD access

Yet, for Lancaster University's BYOD project, there were still a few challenges around software licensing to overcome. After conducting an analysis of their current software titles, the university found that a surprisingly large number of their applications' licenses already covered student BYOD. The university soon leveraged its relationships with the software vendors directly, and with a little persuasion, they found that the vendors flexed their license agreements to accomodate student home use, too.

Naturally, though, there were some academic software titles where Lancater University needed to secure BYOD access to 'campus only', or in a minority of cases, restrict access to those software titles to university-owned and managed computers. Their incumbent application virtualization software on its own didn't have the features to restrict access to those software titles, based on the device being used to access them.

Complying with software licensing in a BYOD world

It's often one of the biggest concerns that any Higher Ed institution has when it comes to enabling BYOD; how do we ensure license compliance and can we make all our software titles 'BYO friendly'? When Lancaster University were looking for a solution, they turned to Higher Ed partner, Software2, who were quick to take up the challenge.

Software2 soon began development of AppsAnywhere, the company's flagship 'university app store' and software delivery product. Software2 CTO Ryan Heath explains...

A growing number of our customers were creating store fronts to deliver their virtualized applications to student-owned devices, but were finding it difficult to build in the necessary access controls.

So we worked with them to develop a holistic solution, taking in requirements from over 50 Universities and building in per-app access criteria - such as geo-location, on or off site, or university-owned settings.

Ryan Heath, Software2 CTO

The result? On-demand, app store access

The result of this special collaboration was a fully customizable university app store; one location where staff and students can access all specialist university software on-demand, anywhere they want to work. They can also use the software offline for a defined period before it's removed automatically!

AppsAnywhere is a single point of access for every academic application, on any managed or student device

AppsAnywhere is now used at more than 50% of universities across the UK. And it's no surprise that adoption of this unique way of giving students access to their software is growing all the time. As more and more Higher Ed institutions begin projects to improve student outcomes and the student experience, more and more turn to improving what was historically one of the most frustrating parts of the IT service to students; accessing software that's only available in set campus labs and at set times of day!

And in recent years the adoption of student software delivery projects has grown at universities and community colleges across the US and Canada, who are all looking to offer value added IT services to their students, and to dispel the myths around software delivery and student BYOD.

Meanwhile, at the University of Surrey, usage figures are skyrocketing. In the academic year 2014/15 staff and students registered a combined total of 225 years of virtualized application use.

Surrey Software Usage - Academic Year 2015/16

  • Acrobat Pro – 26,000 launches
  • MATLAB – 72 years
  • Microsoft Lync – 48 years
  • SPSS – 29 years
  • Google Earth – 9,000 launches

Given that the software runs locally on the students’ own laptops, the cost savings compared with a traditional VDI or app streaming solution are staggering.

The only backend requirements are the web portal and the control and delivery servers. So providing the service for all of the 14,000 students registered at the University is extremely cost effective.

What’s more, the benefits are shared by University staff, and software delivery to the University’s estate of around 7,500 computers is more flexible and easier than ever before.

We asked James what a difference the University app store ‘Surrey Software’ has made to the students, and what impact it has had on the IT department:

Before Surrey Software, the only way we were able to provide specialist software applications to students was to burn CDs and hand them out. This involved hours of preparation and long queues at the IT Help Desk as students waited for discs or for help with installations.

Now we can provide a much wider range of applications to support their studies, and they can access them anytime, anywhere - simply by visiting our app store. Demand is now so great that if we were still handing out discs we would have needed to employ two new members of staff just to keep up!

James Pickett, University of Surrey

It’s a similar experience to the one at Lancaster University, where in the first 12 months of the self-service app store, the number of support calls relating to software installations fell by 35%.

What’s more, because students are early adopters of Windows 10, they have already tested compatibility, with an impressive 95% of Windows 7 applications working across both platforms.


The University of Surrey and Lancaster University were both named in the top 8 UK Universities for 2016/17 in The Guardian University league tables.

Since launching Surrey Software, the University of Surrey has risen 18 places to rank 4th in the UK. The Guardian league table is recognised as placing a higher emphasis on student satisfaction.

See for yourself, try AppsAnywhere today

Head over to our trial site and give AppsAnywhere a go for free now.

Try AppsAnywhere - the university app store and virtualization solution

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