The higher education sector is experiencing a paradigm shift as it strives to adjust to an increasingly competitive and digital-led learning landscape.
Despite regular change to standards and regulations, the sector has been slow to embrace organisational change and to innovate in digital terms, until now.
Higher education is still early in its digital transformation; however the heightening expectations of savvy students, increasing financial pressures and a competitive global landscape have set the wheels of digital change in motion and given rise to a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality.
The five challenges driving this digital shift are:
1.Student expectations in a competitive, global landscape
Tuition fees have made higher education a commodity, increasing students’ expectations of a high quality and digitally-savvy education and forcing universities to work harder to compete. As students become more digitally proficient they want the same from faculty staff and the learning experience and expect seamless device-to-device connectivity, easy access to a plethora of content-rich digital resources and personalised learning experiences.
Failure to address these demands or to take a customer-centric view of students, will see some providers lose out as students take their fees elsewhere.
As software provider Full Fabric states: “… students expect the tech they use at their university to be as advanced as the apps they use in their day-to-day life. They want tools to be clean and well designed, integrated, intuitive and built with the user experience in mind.”¹
2.Budgets, staff skills and legacy systems
Typically, little attention or budget has been afforded to the back-office functions, administrative systems and staff skills that underpin faculty operations. Finding ways to reduce documentation, share information, improve communication and reduce cost is a priority for educational decision makers and an even greater challenge for legacy IT systems struggling to keep up, let alone innovate. A lack of internal digital skills, distrust in new technology and a reluctance to change just compound the situation further.
Budget holders need to commit to change and optimise administrative processes – failure to do so has a reputational and potentially financial impact. A UK survey found that 75% of students consider having staff with digital skills an important factor when selecting their university and 40% of students say their schools’ administration systems are so outdated it impacts their available study time.²
Any investment in new technologies will be significantly out-weighed by reputational and efficiency gains. “Inflexible policies, ageing infrastructure and inexperience working with digital agencies can delay or prevent new digital initiative from taking shape.” PWC’s University 2018 Report
3.Lack of strategy
“Many universities lack a clarity of vision on the disruptive impact of digital on Higher Education or are unable to respond effectively.”³
Although the UK’s public sector is still on its journey to digital maturity, universities have been lacking the vision and strategy needed to transform from an institution with digital tools to one with a digital operating model.
It’s worth noting that one third of students think less of their HE provider because of their lack of digital strategy.ª Universities require an institution-wide view of how they will go digital and to manage the cultural change needed to put improving student experience at the heart of operations.
4.Moving beyond the lecture
Moving beyond traditional lectures to include more dynamic and engaging methods requires a change in thinking from education leaders and lecturers, many of who are employed primarily as researchers rather than educators. Digital transformation presents an opportunity to improve the way students are taught by using digital tools such as games, polls and learning simulations to heighten engagement and information retention.
58% of students have never used a simulation or a game within their course and 48.% have never used a poll or quiz to provide answers during a class – despite these tactics being a regular part of students’ daily lives through apps and social media. †
Universities need to think beyond the norm, supply learning resources on intranets and identify where and how technology can be used to deliver enhanced experiences for staff and students, in and out of the lecture theatre.
Data governs so much of our personal lives but is not yet fully understood or exploited by educators, despite its ability to streamline processes, create efficiencies and improve the student experience. A US study found that 77% of students want universities to use their personal data to inform academic, financial and careers development services.°
Educators need to use digital tools to collate and share data internally, moving away from a siloed approach to information, in order to better understand their ‘customers’ and create more personal ‘Amazon-led’ learning experiences, such as recommended reading and events.