The challenges of delivering valuable higher education

Anwen Robinson, UK Operating Officer, TechnologyOne, asks, is HE really value for money?

The 2017/18 academic year has been challenging for higher education institutions. Need I mention the implications of the forthcoming withdrawal from the European Union, funding squeezes and a rise in costs, increased global competition and changing policy?

But, as is often said, “every challenge is not being done to you, but for you – in order to facilitate a resurgence of energy and a spurt of growth.” The most significant growth we have seen this academic year is a renewed focus on ‘value for money’. For anyone working in, or with, higher education there is little argument against providing students with the best experience, that will leave them both satisfied, challenged and with the tools to succeed in the next stages of their lives.

Is it really value for money?

While the perception of value for money is highly subjective, recent student surveys have not always made for comfortable reading for universities. The Student Academic Experience Survey has shown a general decline in satisfaction levels from 2012 to 2017 when only 35% of students reported being satisfied. The good news is that the tide seems to be turning, the 2018 survey found that perceived value for money was slightly up on 2017 at 38%, and that is a trend we are hoping to see continue. Of course, there is still work to be done.

Attracting students and keeping them engaged, happy and reducing dropout rates, is of paramount importance to the financial stability and success of any institution. If you look again at the Student Academic Experience Survey, after the quality of teaching and continuous investment in campus development, engagement from staff was a key factor in their perception of value. On the flip side, most were comfortable seeing their fees spent on student support services, and, unsurprisingly were less comfortable with a high proportion going towards management staff.

Providing higher engagement and great teaching 

So, if we are to address the need for higher levels of value in 2018/19, universities will need to focus on streamlining the back-office functions that the student doesn’t necessarily see, to enable more visible support that the student does see. Simply put they must find efficiencies and reduce administrative burden to fund frontline services and deliver an exceptional student experience.

Universities are complex businesses, requiring strong financial management and student-centric solutions that cater to the needs of academic and administrative staff. As many institutions have grown, so too has the complex web of applications and systems that support it. Most of this is outdated or overstretched and these systems often do not meet the evolving pressures to make financial and administrative management flexible, streamlined and reliable. Budget is swallowed up in the management and support of end-of-life technology – for a university that needs to find efficiencies that is no longer acceptable.

“The most significant growth we have seen this academic year is a renewed focus on ‘value for money’.”

Look to an enterprise strategy over digital 

Universities don’t need a digital strategy for the new academic year, they need an enterprise strategy that will address the challenges of the current environment. A strategy that runs institution-wide and is supported and championed by senior management. Yes, there are lots of new technologies that will change the face of university life – from chatbots to AI – but there are also simpler ways to enable better engagement for students and the streamlining of back office functions.

Cloud provides a cost-effective and elastic model of computing that allows universities to focus on serving students, staff and academics, rather than the technology. Taking an enterprise approach enables anywhere, anytime, any device capabilities for staff and students, seamless real-time integration and flexibility in academic program management.

The perception of value might be as simple as getting a quick response to a financial query or it may be that efficiencies gained from back office functions allow the institution to increase its teaching staff, and the perception of the support the student receives rises in parallel.

As we gear up for the 2018/19 academic year it’s time for universities to think like the successful businesses they need to be, in order to serve the ‘customers’ – the students – in the best way they can.

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