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Tech trends in global higher education

Sally Jeffery of PwC introduces four edtech trends in HE around the world.
This article is more than 6 years old

Sally Jeffery is the Global Education & Skills Practice Leader at PwC. Based out of PwC Middle East’s headquarters in Dubai, Sally leads PwC’s education consulting practice, and supports the PwC global network in expanding the use of education technology. She recently completed a masters in applied psychology, focused on learning.

The global education technology (edtech) market is expected to grow by 17% per annum, to reach £180bn by 2020. Here are some of the technological trends in the HE sector around the world.

Technologies commonly affect our higher education clients in four areas: broadening student access, adaptive learning, streamlining operational decision-making, and facilitating international collaboration.

Improving student access

More mature markets, such as the UK and US, are currently experiencing a decline of 3-5% in international student numbers. At the same time, they are investing in CRM, marketing agencies, and student outreach – to boost student recruitment. However, in developing countries, where gross enrolment growth rates are often in double digits, student numbers are outpacing supply. This is particularly true for well-regarded institutions, for example in India, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Such institutions are often broadening access for those students who cannot get a place, afford a place, or travel to a university – by using a self-study model, facilitated by technology.

These students can study remotely but participate in exams along with on-campus students. It’s often a struggle initially for faculty, and not always ideal for students, but surely better than nothing at all, and would be impossible without learning management systems or lecture capture technology.

Video is one of the most popular tools for remote teaching and learning, with over 70% of higher education institutions using it according to a recent survey from Kaltura. A survey by the Book Industry Study Group in the US, found that the number of students studying at least one class online, jumped from 10% in 2014 to 40% in 2017.

Adaptive learning

Some of the tools that are based on the latest neuroscience expertise (e.g. Axonify, ALEKS, and Knewton) have the potential to disrupt higher education. If you could provide each student with content that reflects what they genuinely need to learn, use gamification to engage them, and AI to fast-track their progress, then the potential for freeing-up staff time and expanding curricula is promising.

A pilot of Axonify by our own PwC academies demonstrated faster progress for over 25% of learners studying accounting. However, these tools are still tricky to set up, and reduce collaborative learning opportunities. Publishers such as McGraw Hill and Pearson see “interactive textbooks” as an imperative for business survival, and are investing heavily in the technology. For example revenues from McGraw-Hill Education’s digital products now account for close to a third of its £1.4 billion in annual revenue


The DNA of many higher education institutions is defined by consensus building, rules and regulations, and respect for the chain of authority. Unlike other sectors, HE world-wide is a very, very late adopter of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). If ever there was a low hanging fruit for improvements, particularly in procurement and HR, this is one of them. External board members, used to their own business information systems, often seem to find this both puzzling and frustrating.

Too often I hear about well-intentioned computer science faculty staff seeing this as an opportunity for some real-world solution development – universities should resist the temptation to overcomplicate – instead, cloud computing can be a great solution for avoiding this risk.

Facilitating international collaboration

Technology is also connecting faculty and students, transforming how they study and in particular how they research. I recall a conversation with a client in the USA who was very excited about using a mixed-reality headset and his iPad to direct the Curiosity rover on Mars, while agreeing with a French team in real-time, which rocks to sample.

Forget about technology making the “world” a small place, the universe is getting that way too!

This article is an edited version from PwC’s next quarterly publication HE matters, out at midday on Monday 26 February 2018.

One response to “Tech trends in global higher education

  1. Still, we need some more Technologies to be added in education like Blockchain which is much more trending nowadays and also people are accepting in the market. So, one must study how it works and it’s fundamentals.

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