England’s largest community education college City Lit has cancelled online lessons until the new year due to serious “IT disruption”.
London’s City Lit is also currently unable to process enrolments online or by phone.
Investigators have been drafted in by the college to assess what happened and bring systems back online in time for an anticipated post-Christmas rush of enrolments as adults plan their new year’s resolutions.
The college’s website has been down now for a week. It’s been replaced by a holding page which states: “We are experiencing some disruption to our IT services. As a result, face-to-face classes are continuing as scheduled wherever possible, while online classes are temporarily suspended. At the moment, we are not able to process enrolments online or over the phone.
“We would like to apologise for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience. Further updates will be provided as appropriate.”
Mark Malcomson, City Lit’s principal and chief executive, told FE Week that until an investigation is complete, he can’t confirm the cause of the disruption, such as a cyber-attack, for example.
The college had initially hoped to be able to resume online classes from last Sunday, three days after the systems went down, but has now decided to cancel online classes for the rest of the term.
“Luckily, the majority of them are at the end of term anyway, but we’ll make sure that students can finish their classes in the new year,” Malcomson said.
He was first alerted to the problem last Thursday morning when staff and students had lost access to systems.
During the pandemic, when all learning had to be delivered online, the college had worked to fully integrate its systems. Since then, the majority of students, between two-thirds and 70 per cent according to Malcomson, learn face-to-face in classrooms. For the rest, their courses have been paused until the new year.
Malcomson said: “The overwhelming majority of in-person courses were minimally affected, if at all. What was affected, because the [IT] systems are quite interlinked, was our ability to deliver online classes.”
The college is yet to release any further information on the cause of the disruption while a team of experts investigate, and can’t yet say when systems will be back online.
Cyber security experts JISC said “various parts” of DfE and the college’s “very good” tech staff are part of the college’s recovery team, Malcomson confirmed.
“We’ve got a very good team that was recommended to us. They are looking at two things; they’re looking at what happened, and sustainably bringing it all back to normal operating function.”
Until those investigations have concluded, Malcomson can’t say what damage has been done or whether any data has been compromised.
Another priority for the college is to re-establish online enrolment as quickly as possible in the run up to an expected rush of interest in courses after Christmas. This was “absolutely critical for us” Malcomson said, adding: “Last year we saw it [enrolments] really pick up around the 28th and 29th December as people focus on coming back after the holiday period.”
A significant proportion of City Lit’s income comes from its course fees.
The college saw a 27 per cent drop due to pandemic lockdowns which resulted in a financial ‘notice to improve’ from the Education and Skills Funding Agency. A FE Commissioner report praised the college’s recovery efforts at the time.