University IT sitting on a cloud

Paul Shannon discusses how a more flexible approach to IT can help universities attract undergraduates, research students and lecturers

The rise in tuition fees has ushered in a new era for how universities are marketing themselves to prospective students. While an institution’s academic standing will always be a major factor, increased costs mean students are becoming more discerning consumers when it comes to where they choose to base themselves. Everything from the quality of student accommodation to the wider lifestyle benefits offered by a campus have a greater influence.  

Naturally, technology is a factor in this. Universities have traditionally been quick to adapt to new trends in IT, from creating cutting-edge departmental IT suites to installing tablet devices across and libraries.

However, many are yet to fully embrace mobile working trends for staff and students. With younger generations traditionally quicker to adopt new technology and ways of working, those in the sector should be investing in back office IT systems that will support the growing desire from students and academics to be able to work more flexibly. 

Mobile working and cloud based storage has taken off in a big way in the private sector. In part this is being driven by younger people entering the workforce who are more inclined to work from different devices – often their own – and want to the flexibility to access company resources on their own terms. In response, the IT industry has developed new services which provide the infrastructure to allow this to happen securely. 

Universities should be responding to this trend and implementing the cloud based systems and applications that reflect modern ways of working. There’s huge potential for improving how students can interact with academia – from accessing lecture slides remotely or attending virtual seminars to collaborating on research projects with others no matter where they are based.

By using cloud-based service as a way to host their systems, universities can also avoid making a significant investment in their own servers and infrastructure equipment that made a lot of these initiatives too costly in previous years.

This formed the basis of the University of Cumbria’s strategy when it was reviewing its storage, servers and backup. At the time, it was England’s newest university and had considerable growth targets. By migrating its datacentre infrastructure to a flexible cloud platform, which is fully managed by our team, Cumbria can expand on an as-needed basis as the service allows them to scale up without a significant investment in the equipment needed to host this part of its infrastructure.

Additionally, entering into a managed service agreement has allowed the university to free-up some of its IT team’s resource. Any time that was previously taken up by the ongoing maintenance of these systems can now be spent on developing better services for the university – fitting in with its strategy to use IT capabilities to add to academic impact.

Moving from traditional in-house IT infrastructures to the cloud, is a continuing trend in other sectors due to this cost-efficient nature of the platform. The universities that adapt to this trend will be in a better position to develop their IT for students beyond the hardware in IT suites and market themselves as offering a better working environment for both academics and potential applicants.

Paul Shannon is MD of Managed Services at IT infrastructure specialist ANS

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