Last week we discussed two important digital challenges currently faced by the education sector and this week we’re back chatting about more. From operating in global markets and attracting international talent to using social media and creating a digital blueprint for the future, we’ll delve deeper into each of these issues and how embracing digital technologies can be beneficial for the education sector.

Scottish Enterprise Design Grant

Operating in Global Markets / Attracting International Talent

As we mentioned last week in part one of our digital challenges blog series, the education sector generates around £72 billion for the UK economy however it isn’t only from the UK. Back in 2012-2013, £3 billion was generated from the tuition fees of international students and this contributes significantly to the sector’s top line. Aside from the contribution international students bring to the UK, they also provide domestic students with a global perspective and it is in our best interests for UK universities to be marketing to students overseas.

Regardless of the location of the university, the global nature of the Internet means awareness can be created for the university through various digital methods from pay per click advertising to both organic and paid social media. Additionally, the reputation of the university can be nurtured and individual relationships can be established through digital means as opposed to traditional, face to face methods. Many universities are not making full use of digital methods to promote their university internationally and it has been said, “universities that are not equipping themselves to adapt to this new digital era will be left behind.”

Cranfield University for example has had great success in operating in global markets and in 2014, a huge 61% of students attending the university were from overseas. This is all thanks to a global outlook incorporated into their digital strategy pushing them forward for success.

Understanding the power of social media

If you have attended university recently, you will most likely have been part of a Facebook or LinkedIn group either for your area of study or for the university itself. One challenge universities have faced is engaging with students through social media both in regards to the guidelines imposed by the university itself and fear from academics unaware of the platforms (as we discussed in our previous blog regarding digital literacy).

Guidlines imposed

Of course universities will be aware of the benefits of academics posting across the different social platforms however many senior management teams (SMTs) and marketing departments are fearful of the lack of control from allowing academics to do so. As with any organisation, universities should have social media regulations in place for all staff to adhere to however if these are not in place, this can lead to inappropriate content being shared. Of course it is the responsibility of the organisation to identify the level of social media understanding amongst academics and staff and ensure the correct level of guidance and support is provided.

As well as reaching out to current students, university social media channels can be used to engage with potential students and alumni. Universities with a rich social media presence can keep their audience up to date with all information they would need and provides an alternative way for people to get in contact with the university considering more and more people are spending a great deal of time on social media.

To become a successful university, SMT’s should work to remove all barriers, identify the level of expertise amongst staff, issue clear social media guidelines and empower each department to create their own tone of voice and content to be shared across the university channels.

In encouraging social media uptake departmentally, some universities have created Digital Hubs or Social Media Command Centres to provide support and guidance for any members of staff less comfortable with social media. These command centres would provide best practice guides and types of content that can be posted without the need for a very strict set of guidelines being issued. (This can often put people off in fear of being ‘watched’ or getting it wrong). 

Creating a Digital Blueprint for the future

As we mentioned in our last blog, taking into account students have to pay for their tuition fees in many regions of the UK, it is becoming more important that universities keep up to avoid being overtaken by their competition who have already begun embracing digital.

In many instances, staff working in universities may have been there for many years and being faced head-first with digital transformation can be very intimidating - something we have witnessed time and time again over the last year or so. At After Digital, when we work with universities and higher education bodies to help them digitally transform, we have the ability to look from the outside in and consider how digital elements can enhance everything you do as a university. There is not a one size fits all approach to every university, they are all different and each has its own challenges. The key to survival and success is finding the best way to incorporate digital into your working practices and to enhance organisational efficiencies.

If you have anything to add or would like to chat with us about our digital transformation and evolution processes or to share any opinions we would love to hear from you. In the meantime, check out the digital transformation process we embarked upon with Robert Gordon University.