University is often deemed ‘the best years of your life’. For many students, this is the first time living away from home, experiencing freedom and independence, meeting new people, and studying what they enjoy. But the pandemic has heavily impacted student life – more than 80% of students reported that lockdown impacted their education in a negative way, according to student support service, Studiosity and Red Brick Research.
Students dropping out of university can be costly for both students and universities. Research has previously found that UK universities are losing around £3m per year in total, due to student turnover, with almost 7% leaving in the first year. The number of students dropping out because of the pandemic is likely to have increased as in-person contact hours have been reduced and socially distanced rules have become the norm. Studiosity and Red Brick Research reported that as many as 40% of students seriously considered dropping out of university during the pandemic – meaning universities could be losing more than £3m.
So, what can university institutions do to address this and reduce the student churn? What can institutions do to keep students engaged, particularly during the first 50 days of term when they are most likely to consider dropping out?
The only constant is change
Since the beginning of the pandemic, adaptability has been key for many organisations, and universities are no exception. Technology, and more importantly the cloud, has played an important role in supporting this agility too.
Adopting cloud-based infrastructure and tools has enabled universities to keep up with student requirements and respond to unpredictable pandemic or political changes. It has also enabled universities to support blended learning, making education accessible to more students as they can access resources remotely.
By meeting the diverse needs of cohorts, the student experience can be improved from the start. Universities should consider setting up an app students can download before they arrive, granting them access their social calendars, campus maps and instructions in advance of their first day. This app could help them navigate campus and remind them of their timetables. Signposting where learners need to be at the right times will help them feel more at ease and settled into the campus life.
The university-student feedback loop
It’s not only the students who benefit from cloud-based tools – entire university departments can too; for example, librarians can make better decisions when it comes to capacity planning, which in turn helps students find the best places to work and locate available study areas. Better visibility into capacity will also help students socially distance. They can also find the educational resources they need more efficiently, and reduce the time spent looking through large collections.
Similarly, facility managers can manage capacity and assets more easily using smart building technology. They can improve security and address any problems, while maintaining social distance with students and staff. For example, if they notice students taking an alternative route between two locations because of an obstruction, such as a broken light, facility managers can identify this quickly and solve the issue, simultaneously making students feel they are being looked after on campus.
Return on investment
Today, universities must ensure they have the infrastructure and technology that will enable them to adapt to change. By investing in the right tools to improve engagement, students’ university experience can also be improved. When learners have a more positive experience, they will be less likely to drop out and retention rates are bolstered. This means universities can avoid paying hefty operational costs associated with student drop-out, minimising reputational damage and revenue loss. Even during the pandemic, students can still be having the ‘best time of their lives’.
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