Turning a University into a venue

Roger Matthews, Commercial Director at The Cloud, explores the uses of Wi-Fi in higher education

Universities have undergone a transformation in recent years. Whereas once they were academic institutions used purely by the staff and students, they are now venues in their own right.

Each year these institutions open their doors to the general public for events, open days, public lectures and part-time academic courses. The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) alone hosts hundreds of guest lectures a year. These bring new people onto campus and with that come new challenges for the venues. Increasingly, key to this is connectivity.

Digital opportunity

We have already witnessed the boom of mobile phones and tablets with over seven billion mobile subscribers across the globe[1]. This drove the need for Wi-Fi, with users requiring access to emails, social media and, more recently, the needs to stream media such as movies and music. Looking to the future, digital innovations such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearables are going to make this need for connection even more pertinent.

In education, as universities become venues alongside their primary role as teaching establishments, digital has the potential to completely revolutionise the way events, part-time courses and lectures are delivered. Imagine a public lecture where video footage can be downloaded to a smart watch so visitors can watch it again at home. This kind of interaction is possible with the technologies on the market but Wi-Fi is the key to enabling them.

Steps to address the challenge

Some universities have been quick to understand their changing role in today’s education system – and the role technology plays in helping fulfil that. They have rolled out campus-wide Wi-Fi[2] to guests and other visitors, allowing those people attending events to access online services plus digital services specific to that university such as campus maps and guides.

In doing this, these organisations have future-proofed themselves for an increasingly connected age. Universities now serve far more people and need to provide the best possible visiting experience to them. The University of Aberdeen embraced this principle with their May Festival. By offering free Wi-Fi at the festival, the university enabled visitors to upload social content – spreading the word about the event and maximising visitor interaction.

In order to make the most of Wi-Fi as a business enabler, we recommend all universities assess their Wi-Fi infrastructure and gauge whether it can either cope, or be adapted to cope, with the demands of the modern, mobile-obsessed world. Wi-Fi providers will work with them to do this and will recommend if any action is needed. At the moment it often is, purely because current university Wi-Fi tends to only serve permanent students.

Once this decision is made, the university should look at its own plans – for example is it an establishment which welcomes thousands or, in the case of some, millions, of external visitors each year? What kind of events are being held? Is media streaming via Wi-Fi going to be part of these events? And is the audience attending them of a demographic which you know will want to get online and vine?

Having gained that understanding, the next step is to speak with Wi-Fi experts. Establishing public Wi-Fi doesn’t need to be expensive – but the key is to make the roll-out as smooth as possible to ensure minimal, preferably no, disruption to students or staff.

With fast, reliable internet connection in place, the universities have endless opportunities – from live streaming on open days, to guided tours and the ability to deliver digital content faster during summer courses. Connection is not a ‘nice to have’, in the age of IoT it has the ability to make that university stand out and deliver the kind of service our connected society demands. Wi-Fi is a true business enabler and universities must take advantage.

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