Mind the gap

Higher education institutions in Australia and the United Kingdom are using technology to make it easier for students to study abroad.

In November 2019, TechnologyOne hosted its inaugural Global Mobility Program, providing our UK customers with an opportunity to visit top Australian tertiary institutions to see how they are transforming their businesses to improve the student experience. As part of this program, TechnologyOne hosted a roundtable with leading universities across Australia and the UK, where participants discussed the rising uptake of gap years, as students recognise that international experience can significantly add to their employability post-study.

The gap year has long been a rite of passage for young Australians. Taking a break from study after twelve or more years of full-time schooling not only broadens the mind, it is said, but may also contribute to better academic performance, and well-being.

It is estimated that each year approximately 25 percent of young Australians defer their study for a semester or more in order to travel, work, research or volunteer. The gap year, whether taken straight after the end of secondary school or during tertiary study, is rising in popularity.

So it’s no wonder leading higher education institutions in Australia and the United Kingdom are taking it into account when thinking about ways to improve student experience, as we learned during a recent roundtable hosted by TechnologyOne*.

Our concept of a gap year likely has its origins in the 1960s but just because it’s become a well-travelled road since then doesn’t mean it has always been easy. Few higher education institutions spring up overnight: instead they evolve over time. That means so do their back-office systems and processes. That often results in IT infrastructures where systems, like those managing finance and academic records, don’t always talk well to each other.

Thankfully, the digital transformation that has been taking place in education, and many other industries, over the last few years, is changing that. In particular, Software as a Service (SaaS) based student management systems are contributing to a more integrated back-office.

At Macquarie University, for example, the new curriculum being introduced in 2020 has been designed to be more flexible, making it easier for students to include opportunities to work as part of their studies or in addition to their studies. The approach also allows for time out to gain, inter alia, additional industry experience, or to explore other opportunities.

The curriculum is also intended to be more flexible when it comes to recognising prior industry experience, which can benefit post-graduate students whose gap year may have evolved into years. The goal is to take into account the skills and experience a student brings to the start of their studies. In the United Kingdom, University of Lincoln has moved to make it standard practice that its academic programs allow students to take a year out of their study program.

In fact, for many institutions, the number one question being asked by prospective students is if they can study overseas. This aligns with the results of student surveys TechnologyOne conducted in 2019 in which students very much favoured the idea of a blended learning experience.

“Students today want to be able to press pause on their studies as simply as they do a movie.”

It also gels with another finding from the survey, that students’ expectations of their university experience are increasing every year. In particular, the current generation for whom the smartphone became ubiquitous during their teens, have higher technology expectations.

It’s one reason higher education institutions are investing in new cloud-based student management solutions to bridge the gap between their students’ technology expectations and its delivery. To a degree this is being driven by technology changes. Students today want to be able to press pause on their studies as simply as they do a movie on a streaming service and resume it later, anywhere, anytime.

But it is also driven by globalisation. Just as universities are more international in outlook these days, so are their students. The consensus among the roundtable participants was that students are recognising that international experience significantly adds to their employability post-study. Of course, it is important to consider the costs involved. At least one university from the UK [Lincoln] is making sure students do not incur tuition fees while undertaking placement years, assuming they’re not pursuing further study.

Doing so requires making sure administrative systems are in sync with academic ones and that students are aware of the opportunity and know how to access it - another driver for digital transformation and the uptake of SaaS student management systems.

All in all, the positive response from universities to the increase in the popularity of gap years is another example of the culture change that is happening in the world’s leading teaching universities, one that prioritises the student experience and makes use of technology to continually improve it.

As highlighted during the roundtable by Peter Nikoletatos, TechnologyOne’s Industry Director for Education, perhaps the only constant [in higher education] today is change. And for current or prospective students considering a gap year, that’s a good thing. It may actually prepare them better for the future.

*The inaugural TechnologyOne Global Mobility Program in November 2019 focused on student experience. Representatives from University of Lincoln, University of Dundee, London School of Economics and University of Hertfordshire travelled to Australia to talk directly with their peers about what’s happening in technology and tertiary education. The study tour included visits to Curtin University, La Trobe University, Macquarie University, Queensland University of Technology, Swinburne University of Technology, TAFE Queensland, Victoria University and Western Sydney University.

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Global Mobility Tour

The inaugural TechnologyOne Global Mobility Program focused on the student experience and examined the way higher education providers are driving digital transformation on their campuses.