The higher education sector is known for its traditional model and mindset. But now is the time to shake off the dust and take advantage of the technology we have at our disposal.
Understandably, there is reluctance to make dramatic changes to the way we do things. After all, our current model has been very successful, so why take the risk and change now? This scepticism means that while HE leaders are comfortable using significant chunks of capital budgets to invest in physical infrastructure, we can be very wary of digital investment.
With finances increasingly stretched, nervousness about investing in something new is also understandable. But by putting off a proper consideration of such investment, we risk missing an opportunity and being left behind.
UK universities’ ability to apply their inherent creativity and innovation to the delivery of higher education has been proven through lockdown. The steps taken to pivot to online delivery almost overnight was a credit to HE. This move has helped leaders realise two things: one, the model we’ve got has huge risks to it, because we’re reliant on only one mode of operation. Two, we really want to do things differently – and we are capable of doing so. It’s not that we haven’t been able to implement a digital transformation in the past, it’s more that there hasn’t necessarily been the widespread willingness and determination needed to succeed.
Acting with intention
The education space is changing – it is no longer mostly physical. Even without the acceleration that the pandemic has forced upon the sector, when you look at how technology has impacted all our lives, it’s impossible to ignore. In light of this, a number of vice-chancellors have come together with Jisc, Universities UK, Emerge Education and technology partner Salesforce, to create Digital at the core: a 2030 strategy framework for university leaders.
The purpose of the framework is to enable university leaders to explore the balance of risk and opportunity, and to make their own decisions about what digital technology can do to help their organisation reach its own particular goals. The framework will enable university leaders to ask the right questions about what it is they want to achieve in the longer-term, and how they might be able to apply their creativity to achieve it, rather than thinking that things must be done the way they’ve always been done.
UK universities provide some of the best teaching and learning available anywhere. But with the world moving so quickly in the direction of digital, if we don’t keep up, we will simply be left behind. This could be a watershed moment for HE: this is why having a clear, agreed strategy is vital.
The possibility of enhancement
There is often a worry, whenever the subject of digital transformation crops up, that everything about the way HE currently works and what it stands for will be lost. But embracing, designing and implementing a digital strategy doesn’t necessarily mean the end of in-person staff-student engagement. This may well continue to be the core of what we do.
Digital transformation is about harnessing the power of the technology that’s available to enhance the education experience of students. It would be irresponsible not to give proper consideration of where this will fit within our institutions’ futures.
We all know that we should use the best tools and approaches available to complete a task. Sometimes that means using digital technology, sometimes it doesn’t, but a strategy will help clarify where, when and how technology will be best invested in and used for your organisation.
Higher education in the UK has worked in largely the same way for centuries, but now more than ever we cannot assume that tomorrow will be like yesterday. Universities need to embrace digital transformation and develop their own digital strategies. I believe that this new co-created framework will provide indispensable support for different universities’ digital journey.