The effects of globalisation are not only being felt by commercial enterprises, but also by our higher education institutions. International branch campuses of some of our most well known universities are on the increase, attracted by the ability to diversify revenue streams and reduce independence on UK tuition fees. Universities are also able to engage internationally, operating under the same brand name, providing a full academic program and awarding a degree in their name – one synonymous with the quality of their institution. In 2017, there were over fifty branch campuses owned by UK higher education institutions, some with multiple overseas locations.
Of course, geography provides some challenges; not least in terms of delivering the standard of resources that UK students have come to expect. Digitisation is one way to resolve this problem. Resources can be accessed anytime and anywhere, thus giving students the flexibility to learn their way, unconstrained by geographic location. This change is primarily student driven: millennials are digitally savvy, and have high expectations of how technology can enhance their learning experience, whether that’s through remote working, or the ability to contact tutors and fellow students anywhere, anytime.
Heriot-Watt University in Scotland is one such institution with a growing overseas base. It has campuses in Dubai and Malaysia, and the desire to deliver a truly international offering for its students led to the implementation of the digital campus via Collabco’s Myday. The university has around 30,000 students, across five locations at home and abroad, and is the largest international university in Dubai. It also has a large distance learning population, so providing an easy way to communicate with students through their smartphones makes a huge difference in providing a quality learning experience and to ensuring continuity across continents. Timetables, access to the virtual learning environment, printing & library services, transport schedules and even menus of campus eateries can be delivered directly to the students’ devices. It also provides a way for all students, across all campuses, to have a universal communication platform that can also be tailored based on identity or location. Students in Dubai and Malaysia don’t need to know that the campus in Scotland is closed due to snow – a recent example of how the communication technology was put to good use.
Digitisation opens up the learning experience to everyone
These technologies mean that physical distance is no barrier to education. It’s now possible to engage with remote students to the same degree as those who attend university in person. This provision means that accessibility is central – everyone, regardless of what device or browser they use, must be able to easily access and understand learning materials. Digitation also means that learning can be better tailored to students’ individual needs. Those students with visual impairments or learning disorders have different requirements, but with online tools, they can be more easily adapted; for example, videos used in the tutorial process can be captioned and other documents optimised for use by everyone.
Digitisation opens up the learning experience to everyone. The digital environment has the ability to provide a much more inclusive learning experience, taking into account that not everyone can be on campus in a lecture theatre every day – but can be on the end of a device and able to pick up the resources they require to learn effectively. This facility has led to an uptake in enrolment of mature students. Thanks to digitisation many more can be part of higher education. This inclusivity reaps rewards for students and universities alike: retention rates increase, and students report increased feelings of belonging to the university community.
At Heriot-Watt, for instance, the university is eager to track how their new digital campus environment helps with student retention. Signs are positive: by listening to student needs and tailoring support services based on student experience and need, the Heriot-Watt community grows on every campus – wherever it happens to be in the world. Thus is a truly integrated student experience created; digitisation and globalisation of higher education proving they go hand-in-hand.