As the global supply of computer chips has declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, experts have said officials, students and faculty may struggle to find reasonably priced technology this academic year.
Semiconductor chips, an electronic component used in many devices, have become increasingly scarce since late 2020 due to a decrease in manufacturing due to factory closures, straining chains international sourcing. Acting CTO Jared Johnson said the shortage, which officials plan to continue over the next year, has “dramatically” increased the time it takes for managers to fill tech orders for equipment such as Dell Latitude 7420 laptops, which will take two and a half years to four months to arrive.
Johnson said the shortages had delayed orders for the University’s personal computers and technology, and officials tried to prioritize certain products, such as computers for faculty and staff, to speed up delivery. delivery.
“In some cases, we have been able to work with the supplier to prioritize order fulfillment for a small portion of a larger bulk order,” he said in an email. “[GW Information Technology] prioritized the distribution of machines to new teachers and staff, and to people who have a machine that isn’t working and no backup devices to use.
He said 57% of machines ordered by GWIT between May and August have been delivered so far, mostly in the past week, and the remaining orders are expected to arrive by the first week of November.
“With the recent delivery of additional equipment, we are starting to meet requests to refresh computers for functional and off-lifecycle computers,” Johnson said. “To that end, GWIT placed the next order for over 400 computers last week. “
Experts in supply chain management and computer engineering say limited access to personal electronics and other technologies will slow down higher education institutions’ replacement of broken or obsolete devices and their response. urgent technological errors.
Matteo Rinaldi, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern University, said the personal technology that students and faculty need for blended and in-person learning will become more expensive and less available over the next year or so. He said the length of the production process for the new semiconductor chips and their limited supply in the market will reduce the availability of the technology.
“Anything we use in universities for blended learning or distance education needs to be replaced, or it needs to be updated,” Rinaldi said. “We could be in a situation where there could be a very long wait time to access these components. “
He said officials at institutions that allow hybrid learning models and buy the technology in bulk, such as purchasing cameras for in-person classrooms, could face financial setbacks if they are forced to ‘buy a large number of devices at high prices.
Before returning to in-person learning, officials installed technology upgrades in campus classrooms, including new recording software, webcams, microphones and computers.
“They buy large amounts of computers and electronics, so in that sense if the cost goes up, it could be a big budget item for the institution,” he said.
Rinaldi said large research universities like GW need to devote more resources to scientific research to find long-term alternatives to the complex and time-consuming semiconductor manufacturing process that is causing the shortage.
“It is essential for universities and all research institutes in the United States to go back and focus research on the invention and manufacture of these cutting-edge technologies that are needed to support innovation in electronics. general public, ”he said.
Ednilson Bernardes, professor of supply chain management at the University of West Virginia, said colleges and universities are already struggling to acquire affordable technologies, like internet access and electronics for faculty and students to use over the next academic year, due to an increase in demand for personal electronics when returning from assembly lines in person.
“Basically anything that has a chip will be affected and if the shortage persists we’ll start to see that spread even further,” Bernardes said.
The prices of items such as personal computers and other electronic devices increased each year by about 3.4% between August 2020 and August 2021, the largest increase in more than a decade, according to government data.
He said that students, faculty and officials at higher education institutions who need affordable personal devices and technology should consider purchasing refurbished, upgraded or recycled products that help manufacturers reuse materials. already existing components.
“Original equipment manufacturers themselves can be a source of this equipment,” he said. “If you have more bargaining power, there will be other specialist organizations that can help you. “
Ayman Omar, associate dean of graduate programs and student services at American University, said the demand for personal technology will continue to increase with increased demand for virtual or hybrid courses and as more in addition to professions require devices, like personal laptops.
“Whether it’s COVID or not, we’ll always have supply chain disruptions as we move forward,” Omar said. “The question is how to handle this disruption as we move forward – this will be the key to any supply chain. “