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How smart technologies can revolutionise the university experience

Youth may well be wasted on the young, but not when it comes to exerting influence on the higher education sector. As we prepare to enter the 2020s – poised to embrace the emerging technologies and innovations that a new decade will bring – students are increasingly recognised as a driving force for change and credited with shaping tomorrow’s higher education landscape…and smart universities are listening.

Falling behind the times

Today’s students have firm opinions on what makes a good university experience, as evidenced in a recent survey of 1000 currently enrolled Australian individuals. The findings are reported in ‘What do students want from their university experience’.

When it comes to the use of technology – both on campus and within a course of study – students expect a usage level that at least matches their own in other areas of their life. One in three survey respondents found the level of technology innovation at their university (or within their specific course of study) to be functional yet uninspired. One in ten declared it to be either non-existent or outdated and ineffective. These findings are a worrying reflection on the very institutions that claim to be preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s world.

Smart campuses

When asked if their university utilised smart campus technology – including connected and optimised ICT technologies, the use of smart devices, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and the Internet of Things (IoT) – nearly half (40%) of the respondents were unable to answer either way. Additionally, one in five (19%) answered ‘no’.

For higher education providers that forgo the use of smart technologies, or fail to communicate existing initiatives clearly to students, the next finding will be of concern. More than half (54%) of surveyed students would switch (or consider switching) to an alternate university where better usage of technology and innovation is evident. For institutions hoping to deliver on student expectations and to revolutionise the higher education experience, effectively leveraging smart campus technologies is now imperative.

Look to local government

In terms of service delivery and community expectations, higher education institutions essentially replicate the underlying framework of local government areas – so it makes sense to look toward local councils and their ‘smart cities’ initiatives for insight and inspiration. University and college campuses can be viewed as mini-cities – even with the emergence of smaller, urban-based sites designed to deliver a more intimate education experience.

When forward thinking councils around Australia began to investigate how to bring their smart city aspirations to life, they recognised that the needs of a community and its residents was the fundamental starting point. They also understood that to meet tomorrow’s expectations and work with the new transformative technologies that would emerge meant moving away from legacy software and systems that employed a closed, proprietary architecture in favour of an open protocol. For the education sector - the same base points apply.

When 98 per cent of the student body signals a preference for broad online access backed by self-managed administration capability — and almost 70 per cent declare it vital to their educational experience — it’s probably worthwhile listening.

The study showed that students falling into the millennial and Gen Z cohort expect a consistent student experience across all touchpoints and interactions — 34 per cent said it was very important and a further 32 per cent declared it extremely important. This becomes even more noteworthy when considered in the context of a lifelong relationship that spans multiple degrees.

More than half (54%) of surveyed students would switch (or consider switching) to an alternate university where better usage of technology and innovation is evident.

When many become one

A logical starting point is the software and systems used to underpin operations. Rationalising multiple standalone applications into a single discrete enterprise-wide solution enables universities to reduce costs, improve efficiencies and streamline processes through end-to-end management of operations. And before a university invests in a raft of smart technology, it needs to ensure it has the right foundations to interpret, analyse and use the data that technology will deliver in a meaningful way.

Maintaining a suite of on-premise products is expensive and unnecessary, requiring dedicated IT resources and a complex integration layer to ensure interoperability. Moving to a cloud-based Software as a Service (Saas) methodology allows universities to operate a simple, cost-effective and elastic model of computing that puts the student community first, rather than the technology.

Enabling engagement

While the power behind the platform is important, so too is what’s up front – usability and effective engagement. According to the study, 87 per cent of students expect to access all course resources and materials from anywhere, at any time, on any device. 95 per cent believe that consistency across all course touchpoints and interactions is important. For education providers, this means delivering an engaging platform that is reliable, fast and easy to use and offers a consistent user experience.

Developing and realising a truly smart campus is an evolutionary process, taking years – not months – to achieve. For universities, vocational training providers and colleges hoping to attract and retain the best and brightest, the ideal starting point is an enterprise solution that offers ease in all aspects – procurement, configuration, deployment, access, integration and use – providing a suitable foundation for smart ambitions.

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The survey says...

In 2019, TechnologyOne conducted a study with 1,000 current Australian undergraduate and postgraduate students about what they want out of their university experience.

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