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Flexibility in higher education

Embracing flexibility to survive in higher education

from  June 29, 2020 | 4 min read

What do people, data, and technology have in common in Higher Education

Your strategic approach to each of them needs to be flexible. 


In the 21st century, students are demanding more than ever. And governments, the public, and the economy are putting higher education institutions under increasing pressure to prove their worth. Both in terms of social value and ROI against funding and student fees. 

This is leading to a crisis for many institutions – with enrolments down by almost 20% in some. 

But the real problem for institutions isn’t what’s going on externally. It’s what’s going on behind their own doors. As our own Product Director for Higher Education puts it: 

The most pressing threat to higher education institutions comes from the inside, not outside. It’s the hesitation to embrace the changes needed to thrive against the trifecta of changing learner demographics, learner expectations and the question of value of higher education.

The strains imposed by these challenges are huge. Although by no means the only challenges facing your institution today, they include: 

  • Meeting aggressive targets for growth and retention 
  • Adjusting to the needs of changing student demographics  
  • Achieving operational excellence even as workloads and demands rise 

Of course, none of this is easy. To succeed and thrive, institutions are turning to technology – and to the productivity gains it makes possible. 

But succeeding requires more than just purchasing new software. It requires integrating it with your operations in a way that enables maximum flexibility. The kind of flexibility that’ll help you respond to the challenges of today, and the changing priorities we’re all likely to see in the near and long-term future. 

Education Dive has just released a 2020 Higher Education Industry Outlook Report (sponsored by Unit4). 

It examines why more and more institutions are embracing flexibility in the way they manage the three key elements to ensuring a successful future in a rapidly evolving sector. And why this approach will help you avoid the risks of an overly rigid system in the coming years. 

Building flexibility into your institution’s future requires you build it into your approaches to the following three areas: 

1. The technology you incorporate to increase efficiency 

As demographics and requirements change, workloads will increase. Placing strain not just on your faculty, but your administrative operations as well. This will require you to change the way you handle much of the work associated with student information and resource planning. 

Using technology to automate, standardize, and streamline tasks that would otherwise produce bottlenecks, confusion, and a lacklustre student experience must be handled carefully to help your institution remain true to its unique legacy.  

But when handled correctly, it not only creates flexibility, it can have dramatic effects on the cost and effort required for everything you do. Including simply reclaiming time people would have previously spent on administrative tasks for more productive, high-value work. 

2. The way you handle student and institutional data 

“People want to see measurable action with student and institutional data, but you have to step back and define what that means for your institution so you’re prepared for how the basic components might change in the coming years.” - Karla Loebick, Higher Educational Consultant at Transforming Solutions Inc. 

42% of institutions are now making efforts to collect data from their student information systems. And 31% are already using this data to inform new initiatives and strategic decisions. It’s clear that institutions are aware of the opportunity and value inherent in the data they hold. 

A flexible and clear data policy that identifies specific use cases and processing conditions is a good place to start to protect your institution from future uncertainty and the dangers of handling personal information. You’ll also thank yourself later if you choose software that can accommodate current regulatory frameworks while leaving room for necessary changes in the future. 

3. The way you recruit and manage your people 

Human capital management (HCM) has often been overlooked in higher education, with payroll often being the first target for cost saving exercises. However, a mature approach to HCM can be harnessed as a source of competitive advantage for your institution.  

Why is it such an important factor? For every 5% increase in your institution’s staff turnover, the chance of a given student failing to graduate on time increases by 35%. Finding and retaining quality staff isn’t just good for morale – it’s vital to your students and institutional success.  

Achieving a great people experience requires a subtle combination of  organizational policy, excellent communication, and an HCM platform that makes the employer-employee relationship productive and easy to navigate. 

Want to learn more? Download the full report now for a full overview of each of these priorities, along with advice on how you can approach each one to ensure your institution remains competitive and capable of responding to increasingly unpredictable future circumstances. 

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