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Uni challenge: Providing value for students in a digital age

Students are now 'consumers' with very real purchasing power, says Axians' Andy Butcher

Posted by Hannah Vickers | March 24, 2017 | Higher education

By Andy Butcher, UK Research and Education Sales Manager, Axians 

Recent changes in Government policy and market dynamics mean that the level of visible competition between universities is much more apparent than ever before. Higher education institutions are having to embrace commercial reality and adapt to new pressures to compete. 

Firstly, the increase of tuition fees means that, more than ever, students are now ‘consumers’ with very real purchasing power. Secondly, universities must be self-funding and are diversifying as they search for ways to increase revenue and cut costs. Thirdly, ‘challenger universities’ are growing in number and popularity.

The modern university must adapt to these pressures, aligning themselves with traditional business imperatives such as value, market share and brand reputation.

However, this cannot come at the expense of the usual academic indicators such as university league tables, student/researcher intake, student experience and growth of research and industry collaboration.

In order to deliver value to students and researchers, there is an ever-increasing demand on universities for IT services that enable student connectivity and innovation. These include:

  • Campus Wi-Fi
  • Internet of Things
  • Cyber security
  • Automation
  • Scalability
  • Collaboration
  • Teaching and learning
  • Protecting data 

Value

As non-profit organisations, universities have a particular way of identifying the value they deliver to stakeholders based on quality of service. In short, this is the student experience of learning, living and being in a strong position to quickly gain employment, and it is not easily quantifiable.

Digital transformation is the force driving permanent change in the relationship between universities and their students and staff 

Digital transformation is the force driving permanent change in the relationship between universities and their students and staff. The Internet and the widespread use of mobile devices mean that students expect the same high service levels on campus as they would anywhere else - and they will rate a university accordingly.

In addition, with research contributing up to 25% of total revenue for some major universities, researchers must be given a platform to fulfil their ambitions.

One of the dilemmas universities face is striking a balance between supporting students and supporting researchers. They need to support researchers because of the revenue they can deliver, but if they ignore students their core purpose as a place of learning starts to be undermined. In the context of these pressures, self-funding means that increasing revenue and reducing costs are critical for a university to be sustainable. This is where technology, in particular the network, plays a major role, with universities forced to modernise network infrastructure to meet a growth in data traffic. 

Market share

With growing international competition, every university must take continuous action to protect its position in the market place.

To protect market share it is vital to attract more students and researchers and ensure they have a good experience so they don’t want to leave. To grow market share, a university must increase the perceived value of its offering to potential students and researchers. 

Digitalization has driven a shift in behaviour, with expectations rising and changing more frequently 

Digitalization has driven a shift in behaviour, with expectations rising and changing more frequently. Students can now find information quicker and easier than ever before. In this age of digital transformation, efficiency and self-services are key to loyalty and this means making it easy for students to access online facilities that help them in their studies and research. 

Once again, trends such as the university’s online presence, changes in teaching methods – steer us back to the importance of ensuring the network has the capability to support each university’s teaching and research ambitions whilst securely managing growing network data traffic.

Brand reputation

Universities are discovering that, just like any organisation or business, building and maintaining positive brand reputation is vital to its future success. Consequently, student and staff satisfaction and loyalty are top priorities for universities simply because they communicate a positive experience.

For the modern university, protecting the brand means defending confidential information such as student and staff personal data. The reality is that every organisations’ online security can be vulnerable and may be breached at some point. It is therefore vital to put in place the right technology, processes and training to mitigate the impact as soon as the threat appears.

Solutions

Universities are having to improve their use of technology to meet user expectations, cut costs and give themselves a platform for future growth in a highly competitive market. There are several key areas to be considered:

  • Flexibility
  • Availability
  • Analytics
  • Confidence
  • Compliance
  • Innovation
  • Simplification

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