The Role of the VPN in Global Education

People have been using VPNs in the workplace for many years, primarily as a security tool.  A Virtual Private Network ensures that a company employee who is away from the office can connect back to the company network safely and securely.  In past times, this was achieved with expensive dedicated links but nowadays the VPN is more commonly used across the freely available network we know as the Internet.


So the technology is not new, and indeed Universities where also early adopters of this technology too – to protect sensitive data and servers from unauthorised access.  However the VPN is playing an increasingly important role in education throughout the world.  It’s one route where people can access resources that are typically denied to them even whilst online.

The first example is the most evident, it enables you to bypass country based content filtering.  China is increasingly isolating itself (and it’s citizens) from the rest of the world.  Only last week it blocked access to one of the biggest content delivery networks (CDN) on the web – Edgecast.  BY blocking this CDN it also blocked thousands of other linked networks which used Edgecast to host it’s content.  This is combined with the hundreds of thousands of sites already blocked by the infamous Great Firewall of China.

Search for information for research in China and you won’t get all the answers merely the Chinese State approved answers.  Which is why using VPNs in China and other countries with similar attitudes is si important.  Most of the Chinese with disposable income have invested in the best USA VPN they can afford, merely because it will bypass the firewall and allow them US style access to the internet.  It means they can interact normally with other internet users and access sites which the Chinese State deem inappropriate (a very long list!)

It doesn’t stop there, because Governments are not the only people who filter the internet.  The companies who run the biggest web sites will normally restrict access too.  For example can you imagine a better way of learning French than watch and listening to French TV and news online?  It works wonderfully for language students, however all of the French TV stations who broadcast online (like M6 Replay) block access to non-French computers.  They’re certainly not the exception with almost every major broadcaster online applying the same restrictions too, e.g BBC, ITV, Hulu, NBC, ABC, HBO to name but a few.  All of them only accessible in their native countries.

It’s hardly surprising that many people now routinely use VPNs and proxies enabled on their phones, laptops and computers.    Why be denied the wonderful and brilliant BBC iPlayer site when you simply need to use a British proxy to access it – watch this video.

The sad fact is that using these tools, enables some sort of equality to be established for an internet user.  It enables the Chinese surfer to bypass the heavy restrictions imposed by the state, whilst allowing a child in Kenya to practice his English by watch the BBC.