Surviving the perfect storm in higher education

Posted by  Austin Laird

Higher education is changing. Unfortunately, not all institutions are evolving with it, which has led professional services firm, PwC, to call for a change in the way they operate.

Change and challenge is happening on all fronts in higher education: political and economic uncertainty, tighter regulation, changing student demographics and rapid advances in technology.

All this has led to increased competition for students, shrinking budgets and higher costs for operations and people. Accountability and transparency are top of the agenda. Meanwhile, higher educational institutions (HEIs) like yours are expected to develop new business models while doing more with less.

With an increasing cost base and disruptive challenges to traditional, dependable income streams, coupled with greater learning options and higher expectations from students, HEIs can no longer simply opt for mass cost reductions. 

“We believe institutions can no longer afford to operate in this way.”

These are the words of global professional services network, PwC, in a recent report, which warns the financial stability of higher education is “under significant strain.” In its  white paper, Align in Higher Education — financial stability in uncertain times, it urges HEIs to take “pre-emptive action” to reduce costs and better align them to strategic goals so as to develop a “robust financial model for the future.”

But this ‘robust model’, it says, may be further from reach for some than others. “Many universities do not actually have a transparent organization-wide view of their costs and whether they are truly aligned to strategic goals. It is extremely rare for universities to actively challenge the value of the activities being delivered, as most have never been formally detailed, quantified or costed.”

13 years out of date

Not surprising, according to the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research the average college or university installed its student information systems (SIS) as long as 13 years ago. And that creates many issues.

The first is that outdated systems reduce institutions’ ability to make data-driven decisions because legacy systems make it difficult to create budgets, control spending, and measure performance.

Using multiple legacy systems also creates unnecessary laborious admin and promotes inaccurate bookkeeping. And this network of rigid, disparate software makes it harder to adopt new models and cope with changing enrolment and program requirements.

Plus, outdated systems are out of touch with today’s social-media-driven culture and non-traditional learners – a major issue for institutions dealing with the changing generational demographics of young people.

Student-centric institutions like yours need enhanced insights into spending, improvements in financial planning efficiency and better solutions to attract and retain students.

Succeed, grow, excel

Today, the top institutions are managing the entire scope of university functions with an end-to-end SIS that automates the entire student lifecycle. Alongside integrated systems for the management of research, finance, HR, procurement, assets, and projects, they are powering academic success, institutional growth and research excellence.

These systems help HEIs like yours attract, recruit and admit the best-fit students, then nurture those relationships as they become alumni and potential donors (enabling more effective fundraising). Flexible, online, 24/7 portals which mimic the interfaces of social tools help to streamline the applications, admissions and enrolment processes while addressing the needs of non-traditional learners and preventing a digital downgrade on-campus.

A single, institution-wide system

A modern system built specifically for HEIs gives you a 360-degree visibility into departments and projects alongside powerful data analytics, so you can monitor, report and improve key metrics and make decisions based on accurate, up-to-date data.

A single, cloud-based solution for HEIs eliminates expensive, disparate systems and laborious admin. Visual dashboards with drag-and-drop functionality make it easy and intuitive to use. And workflow-support tools liberate your admin and IT staff for higher-value functions.

On the research side, a single institution-wide system helps you acquire the best talent, create high-quality research and maximize funding for it, all of which improves success rates

Agility to weather the storm

Cloud-based systems keep HEIs like yours agile, allowing you to update strategies and processes quickly and easily without expensive IT intervention, lowering your total cost of ownership versus legacy systems.

PwC’s white paper describes the mixed threats to today’s HEIs as a “perfect storm” that puts the financial security of many under “intense pressure”. To weather this storm, you need to power institutional growth, boost student success, deliver research excellence and improve institutional effectiveness.

To learn more about your potential options, take a closer look at Unit4’s higher education solutions.

Austin Laird

Product Director Higher Education