SMART CAMPUS. Dr. Shirley Agrupis, president of the Mariano Marcos State University, presents in a virtual presscon on Thursday (June 24, 2021) about the university's smart campus project. In support of this, the Commission on Higher Education granted MMSU a total of PHP24.9 million to boost its Information Technology infrastructure highway. (Screenshot from CHED's virtual presscon

LAOAG CITY – Around 12,000 students and 600 faculty members of the state-run Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) have joined the digital bandwagon transforming real campus experience into a smart campus where everything is connected and accessible for enhancing flexible learning.

With a grant of PHP24.9 million from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), MMSU is among the first batch of state colleges and universities (SUCs) in the country that received financial assistance to develop as a Smart University, connecting all its existing five campuses located in this city, Batac City (main) and in the towns of Currimao, Dingras and Paoay through a highly connected and safe Virtual Private Network (VPN).

CHED defines smart campuses as “spaces where higher education institutions use next-generation digital technologies woven seamlessly with a well-architected infrastructure to develop tools to enhance teaching and learning, research and extension, as well as to improve operational efficiency.

During the ceremonial signing of the virtual campus project on Thursday attended by the first batch of SUC recipients nationwide, CHED chair Prospero de Vera said an initial PHP3 billion under the national government’s Bayanihan Act 2 fund was allocated for the development of smart campus initiative in various parts of the country.

Of the PHP3 billion, de Vera said at least PHP1 billion will be used for the procurement of state-of-the-art laptops for all SUCs, while the remaining PHP2 billion will be equally shared as initial grants for SUCs to upgrade their learning management systems and address problems encountered in the delivery of the ongoing flexible learning experience.

At the MMSU, President Shirley Agrupis said Wednesday, "70 percent of the amount they received from CHED will be used to procure the needed Information Technology infrastructure which serves as the backbone of becoming a smart university.”

Agrupis is referring to the university’s continuing efforts to champion flexible learning where their students and faculty enjoy a community that is highly connected and digitally interactive in a glitch-free environment.

These can be achieved through the installation and maintenance of a VPN which enables users to utilize network resources that may be inaccessible from the public internet, and to install redundant networks and more access points in all MMSU campuses.

To optimize web security management, Agrupis said the university will also purchase a geo-based IP firewall, upgrade to a 6Gbps Stateful Firewall to accommodate 10,000 users, and 10G SFP+ WAN interfaces for high-speed connectivity, among others.

In pre-pandemic times, the premier university of the north has already developed its own virtual learning environment which was pilot tested in August last year, when learning institutions were left with no choice but to shift to distance learning due to coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

As of today, the online platform of instruction of MMSU is now on its second version, enabling its students to access their learning materials, take a quiz, participate in discussion boards, submit outputs, and exchange messages with their teachers, among others.

With additional funding assistance from CHED, Agrupis assured MMSU will continue to transform into a next-generation institution -– an excellent community that operates in the values of Industry 4.0. (PNA