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The role of technology in delivering on student expectations

Today’s students have clear expectations when it comes to their education, yet many Australian higher education providers are seemingly unable to effectively gauge or respond to those views. In a time of enrolment-based funding, it’s more important than ever to attract and retain students – a situation made difficult as the gap between what students want and what is being delivered widens, leaving colleges, vocational training providers and universities to play catch up while simultaneously trying to stay ahead of the curve.

Change happens by degrees

Change, as the saying goes, is the only constant. This is particularly true for the higher education sector, which has undergone a true transformation in recent years. The shift has come from all directions; changes to funding models, to course development and delivery mechanisms and the differences in student attitudes and world views that continue to materialise as the first digitally native generation comes of age.

To better understand that shift in thinking, a study titled ‘What do students want from their university experience’ surveyed over 1000 currently enrolled students across Australia on their views of tertiary education in 2019.

Online overestimated

Without the right tools, pre-empting the needs of the market is difficult and we don’t need to look too far back to see evidence of significant mismatch between prediction and reality.

The advent of the internet and the accessibility improvements it offered led to the general belief that e-learning would become the preferred method of study for members of a cohort now characterised by living almost entirely online. This presumption drove substantial development of alternate education delivery models, such as MOOCs, and while it was an understandable conclusion to draw, it has proven a relatively erroneous one.

According to the study, one in two (or 48 per cent) of surveyed students nominated a blended learning method that combines both online and face-to-face learning as their preferred option, suggesting that flexibility is a higher priority than envisaged. Only 21 per cent indicated a preference for total online study, the least favoured of all presented options.

These numbers become more notable when current enrolments are factored in – barely one quarter (26 per cent) of participating students are presently enrolled in a blended program, which immediately highlights a discrepancy between what students want versus what is on offer.

Technology investments need to expand broader than just the delivery of courses and study - it needs to enhance the overall student experience.

Give ‘em what they want

As a digitally savvy group, students want their education provider to utilise technology advances to foster an ethos of innovation. In fact, more than half (54 per cent) said they would consider switching to an alternate institution in order to realise this.

But the results outline that those technology investments need to expand broader than just the delivery of courses and study - it needs to enhance the overall student experience.

This focus on technology and innovation – coupled with commitment to delivery of a superior student experience – is driving heavy investment in enterprise software within the education sector. A recent IBRS survey titled The State of Enterprise Software found that nearly three quarters of education institutions (higher education, vocational training and colleges) will replace or adopt a new enterprise solution in 2019. Furthermore, 31 per cent will also upgrade existing solutions.

These organisations understand the importance of underpinning operations with a sophisticated technology solution. Only then are decision makers guaranteed access to the rich data required to effectively direct both efforts and energy into attracting the right students, researchers and programs, ensuring institutional sustainability and that key outcomes are met.

The study found that universities intend to meet their goals via investment across multiple organisational capabilities including; student outreach and marketing, student information systems, enterprise reporting, analytics and next generation learning management, as well as upgrades to back office functions including student support, finance and administration solutions.

Change is here to stay

Changing expectations are inevitable in the higher education sector, as students will always want access to the most up-to-date technologies and contemporary learning methods. In an industry where success is measured on student feedback, keeping up with those expectations is integral to success.

Universities are now realising that delivery of the flexibility that today’s student demands is not the end point. Cultivating an ability to adapt and evolve to easily meet future student expectations is imperative and those best placed to rise to the challenge will be working from a solid technology foundation.

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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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