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Why higher education is a new game and how to play by the new rules

Posted by  Austin Laird

Next-generation institutions are using technology to compete for students, deliver an enhanced digital experience and do more with less, writes Unit4’s product director for higher education, Austin Laird, but how can traditional institutions gain a competitive advantage, or at least catch up?

Within the last decade, technology has changed higher education (HE) from a protected sector with traditional students to a commercial industry where institutions compete for global ‘customers.’ The problem is, obsolete technology has meant most institutions are slow to adapt to, and benefit from, these changes.

Experts have voiced concerns over “outdated IT systems and inflexible processes.More than half of institutions do not have the data they need to make informed decisions about performance. And academics staff spend 40 percent of their time on admin duties.

A new game, and a sector under strain

Enrollment growth is dropping. Barely more than 70 percent of institutions increased enrollment in 2017/18, compared with over 80 percent in 2015 and 2016.  Some industry commentators say the financial stability of HE is “under significant strain.”

Service expectations are rising. One third of students think the complexity of admin is keeping them from their studies and an overwhelming majority want a single app to access institutional services from any device.

As a result, institutional leadership teams are feeling “distinctly beleaguered and uncertain” of the outlook as a “significant reshaping” of the HE sector looms.

New rules, new tools

In this new game, how can traditional institutions gain a competitive advantage over the disruptive competition, or at least catch up?

According to experts, the answer is to develop a “robust financial model,” to do more with less. To support this they need to:

  1. provide new academic offerings based on data analysis
  2. deliver an enhanced digital user experience to campus stakeholders
  3. reduce repetitive, manual tasks that drain people’s time
  4. simplify regulatory compliance and provide transparency on performance

To achieve all this, they need to exploit emerging and existing technologies. From a strategic perspective, this means prioritizing investment in improved technology systems, and making sure those investments are delivering on their potential. On top of that, these systems need to create a positive employee experience (EX) to make work better for their people every day.

These are the new rules as defined by the student’s new role as customer, and the next-generation institutions know them well.

Next-generation institutions

Today’s new generation student information systems (SISs) enable institutions to automate the entire student lifecycle from outreach to alumni. They are backed by an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution suite that enables aligned data and interactions across the back and front office. The best integrated solution suites also incorporate actionable, business intelligence drawn from the single version of the truth available to anyone across the system.

With the right SIS and ERP you can accelerate institutional growth by reinventing how you attract and admit best-fit students, serving those students as valued customers and updating academic offerings in a flexible, responsive way that meets market demands.

These new-generation SIS and ERP combinations help you boost student success by upgrading digital interaction with them to provide access to the information they need when they need it, while supporting them throughout their entire journey, even identifying and intervening with at-risk students to improve success rates.

The next generation of institutions are using these systems to improve institutional effectiveness by better managing people, finances and data. Modern, integrated solution suites help institutions improve decision-making through reliable, accurate, up-to-date data, and by reducing administrative burdens that distract from strategic planning.

Systems built for people

While today’s HE systems upgrade the experience for students, they also improve institution-wide EX. They change how tasks are done, how staff interact with technology and how they use information to identify new opportunities.

They help institutions build employee journeys, develop apps, create and monitor workflows and add conversational user interfaces. This boosts productivity, enabling HE institutions to execute better business strategy, deliver exceptional performance and grow.

When we make employees’ lives better they have what they need to deliver their best work, smarter, faster and more collaboratively. This improves employee engagement, job satisfaction and, most importantly, a better experience for the student.

In this new game with new rules you need a new approach with new tools. To read more about the challenges facing HE and discover how embracing the right technology can help, download the industry brochure: NEW GAME NEW RULES — The stark reality of a disrupted market and how next-generation institutions are reacting.

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Austin Laird

Austin has been a part of the higher education industry for over 20 years, in a wide range of roles from a university registrar assistant to product manager and industry technology strategist. Prior to Unit4, he held multiple pre-sales, product and leadership roles at Oracle, including Global Director, Education & Research Technology. Austin joined Unit4’s Higher Education team in 2018 as product director for Unit4 Student Management.