Higher education is a UK success story. The sector has a world-class reputation, and each year, universities contribute more than £73bn to the UK economy, generating £10.7 billion in export earnings, putting UK higher education well above many other sectors in terms of economic impact.
But, we cannot take this position for granted. There are many challenges and threats on the horizon for UK universities, with competitor nations investing billions in building new capacity in their higher education systems, greater demands from students who are paying higher tuition fees, and increasing pressure to deliver efficiency savings in university administration.
There is a huge role that digital technology can play to help universities meet these challenges – through innovation in research, teaching and learning to stay ahead of the international competition, and through automation and the reduction of costs, allowing universities to get higher productivity and greater returns from their total resources.
The role of technology
As lessons from music, publishing and journalism (all industries which have embraced digital technology) teach us, digital technology can have a huge impact on organisational performance. Higher education has not yet embraced technology to the same degree – operating with very similar business models to a decade ago – but Jisc believes that UK universities could be on the cusp of some game-changing innovation.
There are a myriad of ways technology can help to address these challenges and create a more efficient HE sector with even more impact. Unlocking the potential of MOOCS, open access, and digital archives are just the tip of the iceberg.
In the spirit of collaboration that characterises UK higher education, much of this innovation is being powered by Jisc, the UK’s champion for digital solutions in UK education and research. Jisc works to develop the next generation of digital infrastructure that will be required to help secure the long term viability and sustainability of all publically funded UK universities and colleges, more than 600 in total.
Just two examples we are supporting today are staff and students having greater access to ‘open’ education resources through our Jorum repository, and a new initiative we’ve been working on to broker access to High Performance Computing (HPC). This project will enable universities and small-and-medium sized enterprises to have easy access to HPC research capabilities, while also providing the opportunity for universities to monetise their spare capacity.
To recognise how technology can combat the threats and opportunities faced by the UK’s universities and colleges, next March we’re hosting the Digital Festival 2015 – which will showcase the very best in UK digital talent, and allow people working in higher and further education to discuss the future of research and education – and how digital can really make the difference.
As for the future of the sector, I have every confidence that if we recognise the importance of the UK’s shared digital infrastructure, and continue to invest in it, universities `will reap the benefits of the opportunities it provides, and continue to be the envy of competitor nations around the world.
The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has recently published a new report entitled Jisc: a hidden advantage for higher education. The report looks at the future of digital technology in higher education, and highlights the £200m annual savings from the current infrastructure provided by Jisc. More information and download is available here.