Home & Office

Should universities allow student devices on the network?

Striking a balance between piracy, productivity and academic freedom: or restricted bandwidth, page blockers and website monitoring.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

As I spend the last few weeks of my undergraduate degree winding down until my graduation in July, I reflect on one of the most important liberties that students are given, as some of the greatest freedoms in society; arguably even greater than some of those possessed by the ordinary citizen.

And as students take advantage of these liberties with little caution to the provisions they are given, and the freedom to express and enjoy the technologies they have, one question opened up over others.

The university IT infrastructure, in any institution is hallowed ground. To use, is one thing. To abuse, however, has a significant effect on the rest on the entire university population.


In reality, there is no difference from students bringing their laptop onto campus and connecting to the wireless network from the library cafe, to employees bringing their home-bought devices into the workplace and connecting to the corporate network.

But there is. Employees bring their devices to fulfil their own sense of productivity, while students bring whatever they have at their disposal for necessary work.

By which, when I say 'necessary work', I do in fact mean ten percent college work, and the remaining ninety percent spending time on Facebook and downloading torrents from the web.

It should come as no surprise that it was recently reported that over 75% of enterprise networks have policies in place to bring your own devices into work.

But with non-managed devices attached to the enterprise/corporate network, as is the university network, comprising of laptops, tablets and smartphones feed off the waves of the university wireless network; there is greater scope for insecurity and abuse.

So many students take advantage of the often unlimited download speeds and the freedom to browse any website, without the restrictive measures often seen in the corporate environment, like port blocking, site filtering and website monitoring.

But it links back again to this wonderful notion of 'academic freedom'. It is, in its simplest state, a 'bill of rights' to ensure that those can study freely without fear of repression or restricted liberties.

Academic freedom notwithstanding, some students do study the psychology of pornography, the politics of whistleblowing, or in my case, the fundamentals of post-modern terrorism.

The requirement to access violent content, ordinarily blocked on an 'ordinary' network, such as a horrific though telling video of an execution, is vital to understand the core demeanour of what we consider 'state terrorism'. I tend not to eat breakfast nowadays, for that very reason. An empty stomach helps.

I digress; but nevertheless the point is pertinent to the discussion.


One of the significant issues for universities is the paradigm of piracy versus productivity. The two do in fact go hand in hand, though many of you will no doubt disagree.

One's device is not simply an accessible device to the university network, but more crucially, a mass storage device. A student can spend all afternoon downloading content from Rapidshare or torrents, depending on their level of skill, to their portable mass storage device - their laptop or tablet - for consumption when they leave campus and go back home.

And this opens up the university to risks. It's their network; therefore they can be liable for any infringement made.

However, there is never enough managed student PCs to go around on campus. Even in my experience, you bring your laptop or netbook as a necessary contingency, as so many students will be chained to them and likely their social network, too.

It's a fine balance to strike, between piracy, productivity, and academic freedom. But what would you choose: yea or nay?

Editorial standards