Research conducted by VMware shows that many UK universities are struggling to provide the technological environment undergraduates need to study effectively. Although the current millennial generation arrives at university used to using social networks, mobile devices and consumer cloud services like Dropbox and Spotify, only 12 percent of universities said they could offer students the ability to use mobile devices for study, with even fewer offering the ability to attend lectures (six percent) and connect with lecturers (seven percent ) online. The study also suggested that change is not imminent: only 13 percent have plans in place to improve mobile study options.
Despite a near-unanimous recognition of the value of IT, 20 percent of university IT leaders said they didn’t think their institution was currently meeting student demands on IT and 27 percent of department heads agreed.
The research, conducted in 2014 with 150 IT leaders and departmental heads within universities across England and Wales, also showed access to the internet in halls and across the campus still lags behind student expectations; only 13 percent of the institutions questioned said they offered wifi campus-wide and only 11 percent are planning to introduce it over the next year.
Respondents were almost unanimous in recognising the importance of technology in attracting students: 95 percent of universities said it would help to enhance the overall student experience and 89 percent noted it would help to meet the needs of students. This supports a study VMware conducted among students at the end of 2013, which showed 84 percent of UK students believe access to technology can improve their academic success and 34 percent said they would be willing to pay increased tuition fees for better IT services at their university.
“While there are universities in the UK doing great things with their IT infrastructures, in many cases it’s clear that the technology offered continues to lag behind expectations of students and IT staff,” said Andy Tait, head of public sector strategy at VMware. “With more competition than ever to entice students, there’s a massive opportunity for institutions to make themselves more attractive through better IT.”
Simon Harrison, chief information officer at Kingston University, said: “It was quite shocking to see these results. Kingston University is one exception and has invested hugely in its IT infrastructure. Technology is absolutely essential for both attracting students and in providing them with the best possible academic experience. We strongly believe that universities have to constantly evolve their entire technology offerings, from infrastructure to networking, as well as the applications they make available, in order to remain competitive and to meet the expectations of new and prospective students.
“The work we have carried out with VMware means that we have been able to fully embrace ‘bring your own device’ at Kingston University and provide our students with next-generation learning tools. They can access everything from 3D applications to virtual learning environments specific to their university course from any device and any location, which means they can access IT services and study at a time and a place that suits them. Having simple things such as pervasive campus-wide wifi also provides essential connections to friends and family, and optimum network performance enables us to have reliable and fast wifi for lectures, helping us increase collaboration and the speed of learning.”