Helping universities navigate the new normal with data

How data can help universities understand the post-COVID world

Digitisation has made information technology the primary driver behind almost every industry. Higher education is one sector which has historically been more resistant to this change than others, with hand-written exams, face-to-face lectures, and vast paper libraries being the preferred methods for assessment, teaching and learning.

However, the current pandemic has forced many of the world’s educational institutions to embrace all things digital, along with the benefits and challenges it brings.

Today, students are being offered their courses remotely and staff mentoring is taking place online. As a result, the impact on the daily functions of our universities is being felt by staff, students and alumni.

At the heart of providing a seamless digitised higher education experience in the new normal is data. Our educational institutions must be equipped with the right tools, expertise and best practices that put connected data at the heart, ensuring that remote education is as streamlined and productive as possible, for all involved.


Alumni are an important group within higher education; each year, a new group of graduates heads off into the world to pursue their careers. Alumni act as ambassadors for their universities, going into the world to spread the legacy of their alma maters.

In the current crisis, where some prospective students have chosen to defer their education to a period of less disruption, active alumni support is key to extolling the value of a university education, on top of ensuring donations to fund new programmes, curricula or research projects continue to come in. Properly harnessing and connecting faculty, student and alumni data is essential for maintaining and driving the effective alumni experience.

Student finances

For those embarking on their educational journey this year, without the ability to speak with universities’ financial support services in person, keeping an eye on finances has never been more important. Having a holistic view of how much students are borrowing, and from whom, is essential to ensuring a streamlined, stress-free education that universities should, and can, support.

Loans from government and private banks or companies, as well as grants and scholarships, are all designed to support a student’s time in education. Properly rationalising all of this information helps students navigate the confusing world of debt and provides much-needed financial stability.

In the US, Boston University updated its legacy technology system, integrating data and applications twice as fast to automate a range of processes – including student finance. This updated the 180-year-old institution’s ageing data infrastructure, supporting students with a clear view of their borrowing and allowing the university’s finance and IT teams to focus on business-critical activities.

Where to start?

Data lies at the heart of the new university experience. If higher education providers really want to weather the disruption caused by COVID-19 and inoculate themselves from future disruptions, they need to understand how to properly identify, integrate, analyse and ultimately harness their data. Tools which can move vast amounts of data between different applications and systems and scrutinise large blocks of information to create real, actionable insights are now essential for the university sector.

From here they can digitise their teaching programmes, properly engage alumni in relevant initiatives, and support students across a variety of needs and requests.

The challenges brought on by the new learning situation should be seen as a much-needed opportunity to update antiquated legacy systems. If our educational institutions choose to do this now, then not only can they weather the current crisis, but they can also leverage better informed methods for teaching and interacting with students that will improve the whole university experience for many years to come.

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