Article

What's the outlook for higher education?

By Peter Nikoletatos, Industry Director – Education, TechnologyOne

The future is all about student wellbeing and experience in a post-pandemic world


The education landscape has shifted dramatically in recent years. The pandemic and emerging technology has changed the way students learn and institutions operate.

Higher education in the UK remains the destination of choice for international students, second only to the US. According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the number of people applying for higher education in the UK will jump by up to 30 per cent each year to 1 million people by 2030

Right now, universities are at a crossroads. Do they transform? Optimise? Or stay stagnant?

UK institutions have an opportunity to be future-ready by building on their existing strengths and connecting with students, staff and the broader community in new and exciting ways.

From my perspective, there are three areas that institutions must pay attention to in the short- and medium-term in order to compete and thrive.

Deliver a distributed model

Prior to the pandemic, online and remote learning was an option most institutions offered, but in 2020 it became the sole way of delivering higher education, starting a global shift in how staff teach and how students learn.

Today, having a balanced, blended learning arrangement is expected of higher education institutions. This new normal involves learning beyond the confines of traditional teaching spaces, structures and material resources, pushing providers to re-evaluate how to shape the use of existing physical spaces and assets and invest in digital infrastructure.

With an expected rise in applications in the coming years, there is a new sense of urgency for higher education providers in the UK to improve student experience to help persuade students to continue to choose their university rather than a rival or alternatively a job on the market.

Because universities are nothing without their students.

Student experience has always been an important differentiator between institutions.

Many courses are now designed to be delivered through technology — ‘digital first’ — and supplemented by face-to-face, human support. But simply delivering lectures via web conferencing tools such as Zoom isn’t going to cut it.

Institutions need to prioritise investment in smarter and more innovative ways to deliver a truly interactive and effective learning experience to keep students engaged. That calls for increasing investment in innovative teaching approaches like using multimedia tools, gamification, simulations and virtual labs to enhance student engagement and active learning. Smart bots also open up the possibility of personalised learning at scale, monitored by advanced learning analytics.

They must transform education through innovation to drive student success.

Manage student and staff wellbeing

Student wellbeing needs to be top priority for universities.

The wellbeing of students has always been a challenge in maximising retention and academic success. This is especially important given the new digital education experience where students are spending less time on-campus and also grappling with the increasing cost of living.

A recent survey we conducted with Opinium of more than 1,000 university students across the UK showed that seven in ten students have considered dropping out of university since the start of their degree. Nearly two fifths of those gave rise of living costs as the main reason.

Financial and emotional stress has become a significant factor throughout academic life—which means that institutions need to redefine and remodel their approach to pastoral care.

The key to solving these challenges is digital transformation.

Modernising the way higher education providers communicate and interact with their students is paramount to being able to offer strong support and to spot early warning signs before students risk walking away from their academic studies.

Smart solutions like TechnologyOne’s OneEducation Software as a Service solution provides higher education leaders with real-time, holistic data-driven insights about their students to better understand their needs. We know that investing in smart technology and analysing the right timely data can be transformative in helping universities identify and intervene when students are struggling – financially and emotionally – and ultimately help them stay the course.

Technology can be an integral part of building student connection. In a recent survey, results showed that for students and staff, technology can help forge better connections. Over a quarter of students (27%) reported they felt their university was using outdated technology to support students and 44% of students were frustrated about needing to use more than one app or system to find the info they needed.

More personalised integrated technology can enable social and academic connections and make administrative responsibilities as convenient as possible, creating a better student experience.

Adapt to compete

Higher education has withstood many changes over time, who could forget the global pandemic of 2020.

While things are relatively back to normal now for higher education, the expectations of students are anything but.

UK higher education institutions need to adapt their digital infrastructure – including the implementation of SaaS-based solutions –  to address the changed needs of the student population. The challenge being to link seamlessly front-, middle- and back-office systems while coping with the complexity of modern higher education institutions.

Investing in general technology systems infrastructure, digitisation of admin processes and student experience will bring benefits in everything from student wellbeing to identifying energy efficiencies on campus.

Higher education providers have the opportunity to be powerful change agents that support lifelong learners.

Publish date

01 Aug 2023

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