The technology opportunity for Higher Education
Posted by Ian Sibbald
Globally the higher education landscape seems to be moving faster and faster. Domestic Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are not just ‘competing’ (for want of a better word ) with each other, they are also fighting additional fronts as further education and global institutions look to attract the same body of students. Add to this the continued threat of reduced funding and the task faced by VCs and their operations staff is indeed challenging. Simply put educators are going to have to do better, to attract the students with less.
I believe however this is an opportunity that is aligned to the value of improvement that successful institutions must have at their core. Operationally speaking the greatest prospect for advancement is with the deployment of next generation cloud, social, mobile and analytics technology. For too long institutions have let organic systems spiral out of control. It’s a familiar story that hundreds of often hidden spreadsheets hold within them the valuable data that is the lifeblood of better decision making. Delivering business processes in a seamless way is now critical and at Cranfield University we have successfully integrated many systems so that our skilled staff have easy access to valuable information and spend significantly less time on administration.
Real-time financial information for instance means better spending control and the time saved from administration is diverted to providing an improved student experience. Of course beyond internal operations the technology itself is now central to the student experience. They are paying customers and leave school expecting as standard a next-generation interaction with HEIs for any administrative interaction whether it’s timetabling, fees or looking-up courses. Additionally the Millennial generation will compare their HEI interactions with any other online experience – they don’t want a digital downgrade and if unimpressed will air their views on social media for the world to view.
The challenge for technology vendors is to try and deliver systems that can help institutions deliver the intuitive interaction students expect with the powerful workflow and analytics that operational employees need. Last week I spoke with Unit4 about the acquisition of Three Rivers Systems which it claims will do this by delivering “the first next generation end-to-end ERP for Education”. The administrative system will cover Student Management, Finance, Human Relations and Research Management. This announcement is really interesting to me because, as an FD, I always seek to make a difference to Cranfield’s performance. It appears Unit4 has beaten the competition to complete the much-needed parts of the administrative-system puzzle. I will of course keep a watching brief and intend to report back my views – so please watch this space.
Ian Sibbald, Director of Finance, Cranfield University A first class graduate from Middlesex and a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Ian has held financial posts with Cranfield University since 1994, latterly as Director of Finance. Ian’s key areas of expertise are around financial management and accounting, corporate taxation including VAT and management information systems for finance and resources.