Last year Accenture published its Global Value of Higher Education Survey.

The survey showed pent-up demand for digital learning tools. 80 per cent of students and graduates surveyed said that digital capabilities were important when deciding which institution to attend, yet only 13 per cent felt that their institution provided appropriate digital tools. That disconnect suggests that many HE institutions have yet to fully seize the potential of digital to transform learning.

Higher expectations

Meeting digital demand is especially urgent given the expectations of students now entering university. These young people – who will increasingly have been playing with mobile phones and computers since they were toddlers – will hardly be satisfied with the traditional classroom. They expect learning in real time, not just in the lecture hall or library. Their familiarity with the immediacy and interactivity of online tools means they expect on-demand, self-led learning and opportunities to learn from one another.

For HE institutions this does not mean abandoning in-person teaching, but it does mean providing anytime-anywhere learning for students both inside and outside the classroom, using mobile, social, video and interactive capabilities to make learning more engaging and effective. It means blending digital and in-person training, using different techniques according to where they are most effective.

Making it happen

How can universities best ride the wave of digitally-enabled learning? Here are a few ideas:

  • Build a digital ecosystem. On-demand, digital-learning models require different educational delivery systems. Higher education institutions can build a digital ecosystem that extends beyond the campus. This means collaborating with other universities, the private sector and government to fill resource gaps and extend learning opportunities.
  • Think more holistically. Digital has an impact beyond the classroom. It’s not just about digitising what universities have done for hundreds of years. Rather, it’s about reinventing teaching, administration and student services and taking a holistic approach to digital engagement across the entire student journey. Using advanced analytics to leverage behavioural data is key to providing customised experiences.
  • Don’t forget your alumni. By using digital tools, HE institutions can extend and strengthen alumni relationships around the very thing that brought people to them in the first place – education. This can position a university as a graduate’s trusted continuing education resource.
No turning back

There is no turning back from digital in HE. The digital demand is real, and HE institutions must start making the grade or risk irrelevance in the digital era.

Universities must embrace technological innovation and be instrumental in enriching students’ learning experience. The speed at which smart campuses and student behavioural insights are leveraged will greatly influence how universities provide a safer, more-productive and more sustainable environment.

The digital disruption we are seeing in other industries is already happening in the HE sector. To succeed, UK universities must be competitive in a global market and continue to attract the best students.

Mike Byrne, Managing Director, Management Consulting, Health & Public Service, Accenture

First published 8 September