Delivering value to students now crucial

A new approach to content delivery can create competitive advantage in the HE market says Knowledgemotion’s David Bainbridge

Dr. Mike Finn from Warwick University once said: ‘The task before Britain’s university system is to secure its position in the global higher education sector even as the status and economic firepower of the host nation state diminishes.’

While Britain is still the most popular destination in Europe for undergraduates, UK universities are facing tough global competition. In a bid to attract students, European institutions are offering an increasing number of courses in English, and are rising through the global rankings as a result. US colleges are demonstrating their prowess by rapidly expanding physical infrastructure, and online-only rivals, such as MOOCs, are putting pressure on traditional establishments by offering a compelling alternative to classroom-based learning.

The uncertainty of the British exit from the European Union has applied additional pressure on UK universities. Reduced funding, the potential relocation of staff and postponement of higher education reforms are all being mooted as possible implications of the recent referendum. Concerns around the future of exchange programs and European student fees mean that it is perhaps inevitable that the UK – having rejected the European Union in a campaign marked by significant anti-immigrant rhetoric – should become a less appealing destination for EU students, who currently make up 5% of intake at UK universities.

So, while Government promises that continued investment will ensure British universities can compete with the “very best internationally’, it’s clear that more big changes are needed to enable UK institutions to respond to the challenges set by fast-moving global competition and a volatile socio political landscape.

How can universities respond?

As Brexit fears and increased global competition are exacerbated by rising tuition fees, experts agree that a focus on delivering value to students is crucial. Currently, only a quarter of British undergraduates believe that their UK university course delivers value for money and a further third don’t think that studying in the UK gives them the best start in life.

For us, the answer to these concerns, and in ensuring the UK remains competitive on a global scale, lie not only in replicating the US model of infrastructure investment, or capitalising on the mass marketing appeal of the MOOC. Instead, a refocus on teaching quality is also essential.

Through initiatives like the Teaching Excellence Framework, the potential benefit of a ‘back to basics’ approach which puts the student at the heart of the learning experience can be seen. The intention of universities must be to build a culture where teaching has equal status with research, and allow students to judge teaching quality — in the same way they can already compare a faculty’s research rating – with UK institutions leading the global Higher Education market.

Changing pedagogy for a new generation

Only by fundamentally changing the way that courses are delivered will UK lecturers be able to flourish, and this focus on teacher excellence will be possible. They must also engage a digital-first approach, where geographical boundaries are dulled – allaying concerns of a post-Brexit education landscape affecting accessibility of teaching,

Much has been written about digital natives and their evolving needs; and it is the ability to engage and inspire this generation which will set UK institutions apart from their global rivals. No longer do students want to be tied to the lecture theatre – instead they expect to access course materials whenever and wherever they happen to be.  And no longer is the lecturer expected to impart knowledge in a linear fashion, at the front of a class. Digital technologies are empowering students to learn in their own way – investigating and solving real-world problems, rather than ingesting and regurgitating rote material.

So to engage and inspire this always-on, self-directed student, delivering more engaging course content, using a combination of delivery mediums, is crucial. The most appealing courses will offer a combination of text, audio, video and interactive content – all within a digital setting. These courses will power a multi-faceted learning experience, which puts the user first.

Using video in course delivery – the three Cs

The ‘Facebook generation’ now spends even more time with digital video than they do using social media platforms – with video consumption accounting for nearly two hours of free time every day. Outside the classroom video informs, engages and entertains at every turn. Forecasted to account for 80% of all the content on the internet by 2019, it must play the same role in the classroom moving forwards. The beautifully produced video content on television every night that mirrors so well what is taught across lifelong learning should be used to bring curricula to life – to captivate, contextualise and inspire debate.

For institutions which have always placed the most value on expert lecturers, delivering material by rote in a lecture hall, such radical change to course design can be daunting. And the focus on content appears counter-intuitive when experts agree that teaching excellence is paramount. But by inspiring and engaging students with material which helps to contextualise and ground often difficult subjects, teachers can take a more collaborative and discursive approach to course delivery – helping inspire self-directed and investigative learning practices.

But to make the most of such a powerful learning medium, the technology and broadcast industry must help institutions face and tackle the perceived barriers that exist around the creation, curation and containment of video content.

The first of these misperceptions is that to use video, institutions need to create the content themselves (with the associated time, expertise and cost considerations), or pay expensive license fees and manage complex copyright issues to use broadcast material in the lecture hall.

The second is that video content is not curated or contained in an environment that makes it easily accessible in an educational context. Finding pertinent clips (without the advertisements or tangential materials that commercial platforms like YouTube offer) and then building them coherently into lectures, is a formidable task for time-poor staff, coping with internal and external pressures from peers, students, governments and investors.

Finding a solution

Online platforms are paving the way for partnerships with content companies to curate educational clips into one, accessible online ‘library’. This means educators don’t have to create the content themselves, don’t have to try and contain it somewhere on the university network and certainly don’t have to waste time searching for relevant clips for a particular topic

In this new, Brexit influenced, ruthlessly competitive world, where student engagement is top of mind, UK institutions must fundamentally rethink content delivery to offer ever more attractive courses in order to cater for a fickle, mobile, but lucrative global student market. And compelling video will, like it is in the world outside the lecture hall, be a critical ingredient in that.

David Bainbridge is CEO and Founder, Knowledgemotion

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