The changing dynamics of HE

The rise of MOOCs is one of the most visible trends in HE today, and is set to make education more accessible at a lower cost

Mohamad Djahanbakhsh, Group Chief Executive, Scientia, has played a central role helping institutions worldwide to attract and retain students, work more efficiently and save money. Here he shares his thoughts on MOOCs and the changing dynamics of higher education and student engagement and retention.

According to the analyst Ovum, the rise of massively open online courses (MOOCs) is one of the most visible trends in higher education today, and is set to make education more open and accessible at a considerably lower cost. MOOCs will be the catalyst for broader change in the industry, including such elements as how courses are consumed, how education is financed, and how learning is accredited.

The report, Next in the Evolution of Distance Learning: Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), cites ‘a number of drivers that are influencing the creation and uptake of MOOCs – the convenience and growing acceptance of online education which is creating a new trend in how students attend classes and earn their degrees; the fiscal crisis facing higher education which is forcing institutions to seek out new sources of revenue and driving students to look for more affordable forms of education; and the technology which is giving students an easier way to access MOOCs because students want to learn on-demand in formats that are portable.

But where does this leave universities faced with the task of scheduling online lectures and examinations for a growingly diverse population of ‘online’ student located across the globe? Where does it leave higher education institutions with vast empty estates housing an ever-shrinking population of ‘physical’ students?

The answer lies in timetabling solutions, which enable universities to schedule online examinations when students are ready to sit the exams and which make the most effective use of space when students are physically present on campus

According to The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) an estimated 2,496,645 students attended UK universities last year – a recruitment figure under much pressure further to the introduction of student tuition fees and a sharp rise in the cost of living. Marketing departments across the UK are fighting tooth and nail to enhance their institution’s kerb appeal and distinguish themselves from their competitors.

But where does the answer lie? I believe the solution lies in treating students as ‘customers’ – as is the case in the commercial world – making them feel special.

But how should universities go about this? Some universities, such as Plymouth, are demonstrating ‘value add’ by equipping first year psychology students with a complete suite of digital textbooks free of charge. Other universities are furnishing their new recruits with student engagement tools, such as CliqueIn from Scientia.

Available in a wide range of languages, this new mobile web application with support for any device includes timetabling information, personal calendars, alerts, notifications and GPS positioning software to help students navigate their way around the campus, as well as search, locate and find their friends and lectures. It also integrates with Twitter and Facebook.