Why universities and colleges of higher education need digital transformation to get match-fit and meet the post-COVID world

Why universities and colleges of higher education need digital transformation to get match-fit and meet the post-COVID world

By Steve Ackland, CEO

September 2020


After a period of relative stability and growth in many areas of life, 2020 and COVID have shown us all that we can’t take anything for granted and we do so at our peril. And to paraphrase the well-known soccer analogy, ‘2020 has been a year of two halves’. 


The first half was about a global pandemic not seen for over 100 years, that brought many countries and their activities to a grinding halt; and social unrest leading to protests and civil disturbances not seen on the same scale for decades. The second half of 2020 and into 2021 (and possibly longer) will involve dealing with the consequences of these events - and if the commentators and observers are to be believed they will include significant unemployment, an economic recession (if not depression) and perhaps more social unrest.


Amongst this maelstrom of uncertainty and disruption, organisations have been trying to prevail. Universities and colleges trying to continue when students couldn’t travel and staff in isolation or working from home. And I think it is fair to say that some working norms have been well and truly dealt a death blow – certainly in the short term, maybe in the long term. So, the era of big campuses may have ended, staff will be working from home more than they ever used to, and education will no longer always be about students attending classrooms, lecture theatres or on campuses.


Although the threat of lockdown continues along with various restrictions, it is probably safe to say that the first half of the 2020 match is over, so the objective now must be how we respond to the second half and deal with the consequences of a weak performance before the half-time whistle.


Before we look at solutions, what key challenges will higher education establishments be facing in the second half?  I think they can be listed as follows:

  • Reduced income
  • Fewer students (particularly international)
  • Reduction in the quality of services offered (impactful as fees are expensive and students/researchers expect the best)
  • Possibly fewer staff if redundancies were necessary
  • The need to reduce operating costs
  • Lower subsides and research grants in education.


And the most important consequence of this could be a far lower ranking in the next year’s university national and international league table and reputation damage.


So, we need solutions to try and turn around each of these challenges whilst at the same time avoiding going down a rabbit hole that won’t serve us well when we do bounce back and return to some form of normal. In my experience the one key investment that should be prioritised and will help deal with the other challenges is digital transformation.


Digital transformation is a familiar initiative to many organisations, used in normal circumstances as a means of creating a culture of better, more agile operations, which is open to new technologies and understands the evolving needs of its stakeholders. In other words, embracing a digital economy. But digital transformation could now be THE solution for survival in universities and colleges. 


Why is it key?  


Well it provides a framework of actions that allow any higher education establishment to assess its strengths, weaknesses, student demographics and supply chain. Also, it ensures that students, lecturers and research teams receive the very best access to services and resources possible, applying a data-centric approach to its operations and assessing what activities or services it can do better, as well as considering new online teaching, penetration of new education markets and creating revenue streams not thought possible before. Finally, it considers IT and how new technology can help drive digital transformation and fill any gaps in realising results.


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Digital transformation and moving to a digital economy need not be big or expensive. Start small and look at clear and obvious benefits. Create a clear roadmap and recognise that the roadmap will get you to where you want to get to, but it doesn’t have to be a 10 second sprint.  


Applying a focused approach and working the roadmap will make your university or college match-fit to finish off the match second half, and hopefully well placed for next season too. And by using resources – current and new – in the best possible way will not only future proof your ranking in the league table but in many cases elevate it above other establishments that haven’t embraced digital transformation.   


If you would like to find out more about digital transformation and how Aim might be able to help your organisation become match fit with its tools and techniques, please contact us on info@aimltd.uk for more information or for a call-back by one of Aim’s transformation experts.


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You might also be interested in reading how Aim has delivered digital transformation for Higher Education through frictionless user engagement with our case study.