Smart campus: envisioning the future of higher education

Higher education has benefited from huge leaps in using tech to support students on- and off-campus over the past 12 months – but there is more to be done…

The switch to remote working highlighted the need to advance faster in order to provide a sustainable, supportive hybrid learning and working environment.

On-campus developments

With students flooding back to university campuses in September, it became vital to keep students and faculty as safe as possible using a new and different approach. With the start of a new calendar year, many universities have delayed face-to-face learning, prioritising subjects where lab or practical work is needed. However, having the right strategies and processes in place for when restrictions are eased is top of mind for many chancellors, academics and student welfare teams. Technology can have an important role in assisting with this, and for many universities, their existing infrastructure can be tailored to help – there’s no need to start from scratch.

Using what you’ve got

Existing security cameras have the potential to be used not only for monitoring areas, but understanding movement patterns. Identifying hot spots can trigger increased cleaning regimes, also putting systems in place to manage the flow of people. Sections can be closed off and one-way systems introduced to encourage social distancing. Supermarkets have done this for a while now, to understand when and which aisles are busiest and arranging produce in a way that spreads out shoppers, or attracts them to certain areas at certain times. The same idea can be applied to university campuses.

With GDPR a major consideration, and identity protection a top priority, it’s important to consider how the data collected can be used to assist with understanding footfall whilst meeting data protection regulations. Cameras are already everywhere, and even if not IP connected, can be brought into a compliant data analytics environment via a combination of HPE Edgeline and HPE Pointnext AI services. This real-time data can then provide a true understanding of where people are at any one time and the peaks and troughs in building and teaching space capacity. This helps estate managers adjust timetabling and implement a better use of space, as lectures in adjacent rooms can be scheduled to start and finish at different times, avoiding sudden increases in footfall in specific areas. Similarly, libraries can use data to manage their peak times efficiently, monitoring and limiting the number of people and forewarning students to book their slot at quieter times.

Controlling footfall and contact tracing with Aruba

Aruba’s WiFi and location services also allow organisations to analyse movement patterns, with contact tracing capabilities to minimise the impact of any outbreak of the virus. Using proximity and location telemetry, density mapping allows decisions to be made on adjusting floor plans or modifying scheduling, as well as providing accurate data to contact-trace if an outbreak were to occur. This technology is a valuable tool in any estate manager’s kit for supporting the university.

Watch a video from Cambridge University on some of the ways they are harnessing technology for better student experience. 

Off-campus developments

Universities showed their ability to adapt when learning went online, and now it’s time to look to the long-term. With budgets stretched tighter than ever, a flexible approach is needed to manage the IT infrastructure. ‘As-a-Service’ options provide these flexible solutions, enabling universities to scale consumption up or down and only pay for what they use. At the moment, with ever-changing national lockdowns and restrictions, it’s hard to predict how much resource will be needed, and where. As-a-Service solutions manage those peaks and troughs, providing virtual machines, containers, data storage and bare metal compute securely in clouds. HPE GreenLake provides a simple on premises Hybrid capable solution, managed from a central dashboard in an as-a-Service model. The solution can be tailored to the university to support learning on- or off-campus all year round, so even after these extreme restrictions have relaxed, HPE GreenLake will continue to support the new learning model, whatever that may look like.

Attracting new students

With a new, great potential for remote and online learning, universities can reach students across the globe, exponentially increasing their potential student-base. This is also an excellent option for students who don’t want the traditional learning environment or need to access education in a different way, broadening the horizon for potential students and offering a range of accessible learning scenarios.

Harnessing students’ innovation for developing technology

There’s also a very real opportunity for students to assist with advancing these technologies. Eager to innovate and living in the scenarios we are looking to improve, they could hold the key to future developments. Universities are training the next generation of the business world, itself being forced to transform with new working practices. Putting the challenge to students offers the potential for a new level of innovation and this can only be enabled with modern, flexible, cloud-ready systems.

The future of learning in a higher education environment

The COVID-19 pandemic has enabled a flexible, hybrid approach to delivering and supporting learning. With so much uncertainty around face-to-face lectures and various ongoing lockdowns, it’s crucial that universities look to implement a solution that gives students access to all the avenues they require to successfully reach their potential. Some students will need access to on-campus facilities – research labs and libraries – whilst some may be able to learn remotely for the majority of their course. Technology enables this hybrid style of learning, with video analytics and WiFi facilitating onsite measures and As-a-Service solutions allowing a flexible and responsive work style.

More effective use of technology in higher education

We recently held a discussion with Ucisa and two Russell Group universities – Cambridge snd Durham – to discuss examples of how technology can help higher education run more efficiently, and demonstrates how lessons learnt through innovating at speed can continue to benefit institutions in the months and years ahead.



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