Hearing the sound of growth

Founded in 1980, Manchester-based SSR has always been a pioneer. It began life as Spirit Studios, and bands such as The Smiths, The Stone Roses and Simply Red (to name but three) recorded there.

It became the first audio engineering and music production school in the UK, and one of the first in the world.

Today, it delivers a wide range of music, film and media degree courses to students in four locations in Manchester, London, Bangkok and Singapore.

In order to improve the learning experience for its growing number of students, and to provide reliable videoconferencing between staff and tutors, SSR signed up to the Connection Vouchers scheme – the government-funded scheme that provides small and medium-sized companies with the chance to upgrade from standard, slower connections to a superfast service with vouchers worth up to £3,000.

“The difference has been phenomenal,” says SSR director Ian Hu.

As a specialist school, SSR can’t offer all the social infrastructure of typical university student life.

It has to stack up well against the universities for the quality of its teaching and learning environment. Faster broadband is central to that.

And Hu and his colleagues recognised that they need to upgrade SSR’s broadband capability.

To learn how to make videos and films, students need to download and stream plenty of videos and films. “They have to learn from video content,” says Hu, so any time spent watching and waiting for that on-screen wheel to stop spinning was a source of frustration.

It was not just video downloads that mattered. There was also the issue of backing up student work. “We hammer home how students need to make multiple back-ups of their work,” says Hu. “We tell them that their work should be held on at least two drives as well as in the cloud.”

So upload speeds were just as important to SSR and that was proving to be another frustration. “A student could start backing up their work at 9am and still not be finished by 4pm,” he recalls.

Frustrations about slow broadband weren’t just exercising the students. All SSR’s tutors are active in their industry – it’s something that instils confidence among students as well as SSR’s academic and commercial partners. They were regularly in touch with each other over Skype – but were struggling with intermittent and patchy quality of the calls.

With SSR’s growth in numbers and locations, its single internet-based administration system – which handles everything from student registrations and bookings to exam marking and payments – had to become slicker and faster.

Then there was the future growth strategy – a central plank of which will be SSR’s capacity to provide online courses. In order to deliver online education, a powerful broadband capability was required.

SSR identified Metronet as a supplier and Metronet in turn introduced SSR to the Connection Voucher scheme. SSR’s technical director Tom Aston filed the application – and within a week it was approved.

For Hu, the experience with the Connection Voucher scheme has proved to be “a great bonus” in the whole programme of upgrading SSR’s capabilities. The speed and simplicity of the application impressed SSR.

“The whole thing was stupidly easy,” says Hu. “We hardly noticed the process.”

For the students, the improvements have been dramatic. “Our superfast broadband is delivering what we needed,” says Hu. “The satisfaction levels of students are up – and they are able to be much more effective in their studies. “They can upload large video project files in ten or 15 minutes, rather than it taking all day.”

And don’t forget the staff. Hu laughs: “Those old unintelligible Skype calls? They are a thing of the past.”

Scheme now closed

The Government’s Broadband Connection Voucher Scheme ran from December 2013 until October 2015. From April 2015, the scheme was funded by a £40m Government challenge fund. This fund is now fully committed and the Scheme has closed to new applicants.