Generating £72 billion in value to the UK economy in 2014, the education sector is one of the fastest growing, most valuable sectors to the UK, however it is not without it’s challenges. Despite what you might think, the education sector is fiercely competitive, after all, degrees are essentially products that students are paying for over 3+ years. So, just as any other organisation would do, universities must also have a marketing strategy in place to both attract and retain students as well as fight off their key competitors.
With record numbers of young people in the UK going on to study at university (235,000 18 year olds accepted a full-time university place in 2015), places have become more and more competitive and with lower budgets, the university scene has become very much a case of ‘survival of the fittest’. With the increased pressure to satisfy needs on a smaller budget comes the need for organisational efficiencies which is where universities must begin embracing digital and new technology.
Digital Challenges in Education
There is no denying that digital can help universities to transform, however many universities operating on traditional business models have found it difficult to become truly digital. From embracing the technology available as well encouraging all staff to buy into new processes, we will delve into many of the key digital challenges facing UK universities today.
Rising Student Expectations
Year on year, universities are welcoming more tech savvy young people and alongside the enthusiasm and willingness to learn, many of the students also come with digital expectations. Nowadays, students are coming to university with a firm grasp on technology, using it to communicate every day and many universities are struggling to keep up. With tuition fees rising in many regions, students increasingly see universities as the best way to set themselves up for the future and so are ultimately looking for a return on their investment and to learn in the way they expect to / want to learn.
In conjunction, with the ‘bring your own device culture’, there is an increasing demand for wifi access and digital learning options such as viewing lecture slides on a second screen and resources being placed online to access on other devices. As such, universities are now recognising the need to incorporate this into their strategy to meet the needs of students both now, but more importantly in the years to come when demand will be even greater. This transition has become difficult for many universities for a number of different reasons.
It has been said that it will be the early adopters who will reap the long term reputational benefits of adapting their methods and this couldn’t be more true. As such, many universities are rethinking the way they deliver course content to their students with many considering the use of technology to carry out webinars, elearning and to store additional digital resources online.
Using new tools and apps everyday to go about their daily business, even some of the best universities are struggling to keep up with a rapidly evolving young audience. With university alternatives (such as apprenticeships and distance learning courses) becoming more and more popular, universities face the challenge of being able to provide the experiences modern day students expect, and will grow to expect over the coming years.
Another challenge which many higher education institutions are currently facing in terms of digital is the lack of buy-in from the staff. At the moment, it is a very mixed bag amongst the higher education sector as we have seen some universities fully embracing digital change and evolution such as Robert Gordon University however others remain very traditionally minded. On one hand, many academics have embraced technology and fully understand the benefits of using it (i.e. to promote a collaborative working environment, deliver course content in a manner the students expect as well for organisational efficiencies) whilst on the other hand, many other members of staff are reluctant to embrace technology.
Of course this is can be down to a number of reasons however the main reasons we have uncovered are:
- They are not aware of how technology can help and don’t want to be “adopting technology for technology’s sake”.
- It also comes down to digital literacy i.e. their capabilities and confidence in using technology / digital tools to carry out their jobs.
Additionally, outwith the academics, many staff in administration positions within universities are also reluctant to use technology when it comes to student support. This may be down to fear of unfamiliar systems, fear of learning about the new systems or fear of student data being lost in the cloud. Ultimately, is the responsibility of the university to ensure the people side of the organisation buy into digital evolution and how it can make for smoother, more efficient processes that will benefit everyone.
This then begs the question - who is responsible for encouraging everyone embraces technology and digital practices? As my colleague Cat mentioned in another of our latest blogs:
Research suggests that as academics have limited amounts of time to spend on extensive training of new systems, tools and technologies which are intuitive to use tend to be more widely accepted by higher education staff. However it has been said that the promotion and support of digital literacy is central to greater adoption of technology.
There will come a time where the physical university campus will not be the epicentre of the university and digital will ultimately take over. If you have faced either of these challenges lately or would like to share how you have overcome such challenges we’d love to hear from you. Watch this space next week for more digital challenges in the education sector.