Microsoft heads new class

Furthering its push into the educational world, Microsoft Corp. last month announced a revamped academic program designed to turn ordinary students at various levels into fully certified Microsoft gurus.

Just how large a role companies should play in the high school and college halls is an ongoing source of debate within the industry, however.

According to Microsoft, the new IT Academy program, set for roll-out in North America in January, offers academic institutions the tools to train and certify students for careers as network administrators, technical support specialists, software and hardware developers and design engineers. The program replaces the previous Authorized Academic Training Program (AATP), which has been taught in colleges and vocational schools since 1995.

Julie Kaufman, research analyst for skills development with IDC Canada in Toronto, said the question of what type of role corporations should play in the academic process is a matter of concern for many schools.

“Universities, colleges and high schools are currently wrestling with the issue of how close to be to industry and how to stay impartial,” she said. “How can they provide the education that our students really need while still catering to the people who are paying for or subsidizing that education?”

Kaufman pointed out, however, that because of Microsoft’s prevalence in the IT industry, it is not a wonder why educational institutions offer Microsoft-based programs.

“Microsoft is the largest software company and obviously its products and solutions are used around the world,” she said. “Thus it is in the interest of educational institutions to have access to that and be able to train their students.”

Still, on the flip side, Kaufman noted that these same institutions must ensure that they provide similar opportunity and training in other types of technologies – both vendor-sponsored and ones that they are going to have to invest in.

At least one school is seeing the demand from its students for Microsoft-intense course options. According to Frank Gerencser, CEO and co-founder of triOS College of Information Technology in Mississauga, Ont., the new IT Academy program has generated interest among students.

“In our college, we currently train 1,000 students a year in full-time networking, programming and Web-design,” Gerencser said. “I would say that 50-60 per cent of our total training is on Microsoft. That is one of the primary reasons people come to us for training.”

Microsoft’s revamped program grew out of response from academic institutions like Gerencser’s, according to Patricia Meta, training and certification manager for Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont.

“Not a lot had changed with the AATP since its inception,” she said. “We did a lot of surveys with our academic channel in North America to talk to them about what they would like to see with the program. We took into account everything that they said and we redesigned the IT Academy program, which brings in additional benefits to the partner.”

Meta said those benefits include allowing students earlier access to Microsoft technology, faculty training that will allow them to get up to speed quicker on Microsoft technologies, “and additional benefits for the students and the centres in general.”

But Meta does not deny that Microsoft wants professionals in the industry that are able to support its products.

“We have really tried to make it clear that when deploying our products out, you really want a certified professional working with you to support and administer them,” she said.

IDC’s Kaufman added that programs like Microsoft’s are certainly not a new thing, rather a popular strategy among many corporations. And the curriculum coming out of Redmond, Wash. is always of particular interest to schools and students, she added.

“One of the reasons people are more interested in the Microsoft story is because they are always seen as a monopoly,” Kaufman said.