Digital transformation: the path to elevating UK education

It’s imperative for institutions to take the leap and provide as much accessibility for students as possible

The start of the next academic year is upon us. This year, application numbers increased by 6% from 2020 with almost 45% of A-level students getting top grades. However, the pandemic is an ever-present factor, so university leaders can’t afford to make the mistake of thinking of the new year as a fresh start.

Last year, 46% of students aged 16-24 used online learning materials as the pandemic showed us that an online learning experience, though remote, allows for more accessibility for all types of students. Universities that embraced digital transformation as soon as possible by offering online access to open libraries, textbooks, course material, educational content and research through a secure portal found themselves ahead as students adapted to this new way of learning. As they approach this academic year, universities must consider the best possible approach to learning resources rather than reverting to older, default practices.

Improving affordability and accessibility

Universities such as Surrey and Coventry are embracing digital transformation by adapting to the new way of providing access to learning resources, and are prime examples of how universities can re-establish business models to allow for textbooks to be more accessible and affordable through a digital library, funded by the institution. With the average student paying between £450 to £1070 for textbooks and equipment, paired with accommodation costs, living costs and tuition bills, institutions can support students and greatly improve their education experience by reducing expenses in areas such as core learning materials.

Additionally, having an online portal or library also makes the whole system much more accessible for disabled students or for those with different learning abilities, allowing for greater accessibility features and eliminating the need for students to physically access a library to get their learning materials. These features can include text-to-speech software to help visually impaired students, or speed-reading options within online textbooks to give more accessibility for students with neurological disabilities, allowing them to have a more consistent reading experience.

Building relationships and improving insight

Whilst these changes are already taking place, there are still areas where even the most innovative universities can improve. In getting a digital learning offering right, it’s important that universities have a deep understanding of what they need their learning platform to deliver for them and what their students are seeking in their learning experience. Universities should survey students where possible to better gauge their wants and needs, so that they can then use this insight to inform their decisions. In having this understanding, institutions and digital learning providers can have a more relevant and informed conversation, where the digital learning provider can make cost-effective recommendations to give the university the best chance of success and an improved education experience.

Universities should also come into the conversation understanding the funding and resource challenges their existing librarians are facing – what are the physical processing and storage costs for print texts versus electronic versions? Is the library funded enough to support the convenience costs of e-textbooks? What insights do the librarians have now about which textbooks and subject areas are accessed most by students?

The pricing knowledge gap

Further to this relationship building, it’s important for institutions to work with providers to understand the nuances in textbook and e-textbook pricing structures, which will in turn ensure institutions select the best offering for their student’s needs.

Some universities may need access to a large catalogue of core content which all students can access, allowing universities to pay a fixed price per student, per class for an academic period. Alternatively, institutions may be more focused on an ‘on-demand’ pricing structure, which would allow them to pay only for the content that’s accessed and used by the student. In either case, considering the advantages and disadvantages of both will help the institution to get ahead and operate in a more cost-effective manner, whilst also providing the best offering for students.

The pandemic has exposed deficiencies in the nation’s digital learning infrastructure; it’s therefore imperative for institutions to take the leap and provide as much accessibility for students as possible. Universities that are ahead of the curve in embracing the collaboration with publishers and edtech to enhance student learning experiences when it comes to accessing academic resources will have a more future-proofed and attractive educational offering.

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