Apple has regained top spot in the lucrative US education market, according to higher-education market research firm Quality Education Data (QED), and MacCentral.

The company claims that up to 3,236,000 Apple systems are installed in US public schools. Dell's figure is currently riding around the 1,572,000-unit mark.

QED estimates that US schools will purchase up to 447,000 Macs this year, compared to around 270,500 Dell systems, and to 215,700 Compaq units.

QED has conducted a similar study with US school districts for the past 15 years. Its latest figures reflect Apple's position in the sector between May and June 2001.

The news defies recent statements by Dell's director of education sales, Bill Rodriguez, who said: "In the first quarter, it doesn't look like Apple gained any momentum. It will be interesting to see how it does in Q2. So far, all the numbers just seem to indicate the opposite."

Apple lost its top spot in the US education market last summer, following the company's reorganization of its education-sales teams. Apple's decision to bring its US education sales in-house was executed during the summer months - the peak buying period for sales in the sector. This impacted with a sharp drop in sales, which reflected badly on Apple's revenues in the period.

Apple's main competitor in the education market is Dell, which held the number one slot for a few months while Apple marshalled its new teams. Apple's has been resurgent in the education sector recently, with a number of major US education districts adopting its technology. These include Chicago, Baltimore, Fremont, Pittsburg and Virginia.

PowerSchool is another factor in Apple's education success. PowerSchool offers an easy-to-use online database of individual children's educational performance for teachers, administrators and parents. After acquiring the service earlier this year, Apple has been using the product to spearhead sales in new districts.

Apple's commitment to the education sector remains steadfast. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said: "We're in education not just because we want to make revenue and profits, although that's important, but because we give a damn."

“We’re listening to teachers, students, parents and administrators and working as hard as we can to deliver the best solutions possible to education.”

Apple's new iBook range is another important plank in its education strategy, with UK dealers reporting rapid sales, mirroring its popularity in the US. "The future of education is wirelessly networked notebooks," he said when he Jobs said when announcing the iBook.

In the UK and Europe, Apple has also been restructuring its education sales teams. Although bringing much of it in-house, the best dealers have been kept in the loop. The company is concentrating on providing a solutions-based approach, through the Solutions Experts Program. Apple has also refined its European sales teams, reflecting differences between education systems in European countries.