Posted by Anthony Salcito
Vice President, Worldwide Education, Microsoft

I'm thrilled to announce a new benefit designed to empower students worldwide with the technological skills they need to compete in today’s (and tomorrow’s) workforce: it's called Student Advantage.

Beginning Dec. 1, any academic institution that licenses Office for staff and faculty can provide Office 365 ProPlus for students at no additional cost. Student Advantage makes it easy for qualifying institutions to provide students with the latest version of full Office at school and at home. Combined with Office 365 for Education plan A2, which is free for schools, Student Advantage gives students access to the same set of world-class productivity tools and services used by Fortune 500 companies all over the world.

We developed Student Advantage to address the very real needs of our fast-changing global economy. Microsoft and IDC recently conducted a study to identify the skills and competencies highly valued by employers – now and through 2020 – so we can help graduate well-prepared students. IDC scanned 14.6 million job postings from April to September 2013 and identified the top 60 positions with the highest growth and salary potential, along with the 20 most common skills that are both important and widely required across positions. The study found that while most of these skills are "soft skills," there are also some technologies, or "hard skills," on this list. For instance, oral and written communications was listed as the number-one most sought-after skill, with detail orientation being number two. Proficiency with Microsoft Office was number three. (Interestingly, PowerPoint and Word were called out individually as 11 and 13 on the list, respectively.)

In essence, students today need job readiness skills, not job training. And the technology industry can and should play a very important role in rebooting education to address this shift. It is a remarkable time in the world of education. Learning is changing. From the Internet’s massively open content to the possibilities that global collaboration brings to every classroom, it's clear that today's students – the workforce of tomorrow – must be prepared for a shifting landscape. And that landscape is increasingly technologically driven. It's also clear that effective educators are needed now more than ever to ensure that the personalized learning required for success in the 21st century delivers on its full potential.

All of this disruptive change provides a unique opportunity for those of us in the technology industry to make a meaningful difference in education. We should be asking ourselves some critical questions: Are we exploring all the ways that technology can help improve learning outcomes? How can we best make both the technology and the programs students need to become college- and career-ready available to as many students as possible? And what can we do to inspire and prepare students for success in the global workplace of tomorrow?

At Microsoft, we have been asking these questions and more. And we are proud that today, 110 million students, faculty and staff are using Office 365 Education for improved communication and collaboration capabilities. Office 365 is already enabling students in 119 countries and 36 languages to view and edit their documents using Office Web Apps, synchronize notes in OneNote, and utilize shared workspaces, instant messaging and audio and video conferencing.

Today's students are tomorrow’s workforce, and at Microsoft, we are committed to creating a world where any learner – regardless of circumstance – has the opportunity to receive a quality education. Given the fact that Office products are clearly playing an increasingly important role in the workplace, we want to ensure that students throughout the world have access to the most up-to-date version of full Office on any device – PC, tablet or mobile. And programs like Student Advantage can give them just that – the advantage they need to be workforce-ready, and to fulfill their potential as our future leaders.