The Digital Future Of Higher Education: Part I

Director of Healthcare, Life Sciences, and Postal Industry Markets, SAP Asia Pacific Japan

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For years, the world has envisioned higher education institutions that are student-centric, with students increasingly behaving as consumers, or even customers. In today’s digital era, this vision is now the reality.

Reimagine student engagement: Turning students into advocates

While it is true across sectors, universities in particular need more than ever to engage their consumers—the students—in the digital realm. These fast-moving digital natives began their learning journeys in the digital world and continue to live in it. The level of interconnectedness students possess with one another, coupled with unparalleled access to information compared to even just a decade ago means students are empowered, opinionated, and ever more demanding.

Universities in particular need more than ever to engage their consumers—the students—in the digital realm.

For universities, this has massive implications. The one enrolment decision students make in a month can affect your institution for the next three, four, or more years. The global nature of the Internet also means that one student’s enrolment decision can easily influence numerous others—without reference to geography. Compounded, the effects can be colossal.

In this context, student engagement must be a priority, and this engagement needs to commence early. From the very first time a potential student makes contact, the institution needs to start understanding him or her, acquiring preferences and affinities to create a profile. Whether it is through events or other touch points, it is about building a 360-degree view of a potential student as a customer—capturing all interactions (offline and online), contexts, and behaviours—to then be able to tailor contextually accurate recommendations that interest the potential student.

This is not about peddling the age-old higher-education model of lecturing and examination to a potential student more cleverly. The way education is conducted and presented needs to transform. Today, the availability of online learning and the entry of less-traditional players offering qualifications often in collaboration with industry experts is making a traditional university education appear less attractive to the connected student. To be able to make contextually accurate suggestions to a university’s potential customer, universities need to have the right offerings to begin with.

The upside to robust student engagement is huge. Armed with actionable insights captured through all interactions with the potential student, institutions can design attractive programs that appeal. The connected nature of students mean what’s good gets multiplied on the digital front.

Reimagine student success: Becoming real-time and data-driven

The digital world offers infinite new opportunities to higher education and research. In a connected world where every university decision can be informed by real-time data, institutions will refocus on how university management, learning, and research outcomes are measured, consumed, analysed, experienced, and acted upon. This applies to student success.

Once students are in your campus (whether physical or online), every interaction and touch point with students help institutions create a rich repository of information that allows teachers to help students stay on track. This could be structured data from the student information, learning management, and student recruitment systems. Or it could be unstructured data capturing students’ sentiments on social media. All captured data can be analysed via advanced in-memory platforms to reflect the growth of learners, while predictive systems enable decision support for teachers and professors, helping them zoom in on areas that students require more assistance in. The institution’s understanding of students’ needs is enhanced so that it can respond accordingly. Ultimately, it is about universities becoming real-time and data-driven to achieve their objectives.

An example of a higher education institution that is actively creating actionable, real-time information is the University of Kentucky (UK), a popular and respected institution in the U.S. UK is using advanced analytics to help support and educate nearly 28,000 students and improve the efficiency of 14,000 faculty and staff members. Passionate about its objective for students be successful, UK wants to ensure its students stay in school to earn the degree they seek. To that end, University of Kentucky wanted to use technology to help raise retention and graduation rates while at the same time optimising the use of university resources, and supporting personalised education for students. The university set a measurable goal to improve retention rates by 10% as an indicator, and decided to implement SAP HANA.

With the implementation, UK gained the capability to become real time. Query execution times went from 20 minutes to 1 second, enabling advisors to reach out to students instantly. UK can now quickly identify students who need additional support in their critical first weeks on campus. With early identification, the university is able to intervene early with personalised services to such students. The ability to act on a deeper understanding of specific success factors is giving UK the capability to make the degree a reality for even more graduates.

Now, UK’s many data analysis initiatives directly support its goal to improve retention rates by 10%. And its expected ROI on big data analysis is 509%. By redefining student success and targeting it with data, IDC estimates that UK could increase tuition income by $210,800 per year over five years. The improvement of graduation rates and minimisation of attrition with personalised student resources visibly helped UK preserve tuition income.

The future, now

Clearly, continued engagement beyond graduation can create infinite value. The global digital landscape is driving everyone towards becoming a lifelong learner. This is the one of the greatest opportunities that higher education and research scene has witnessed.

The digital future holds innovations that can help higher-education establishments keep in touch with and leverage the relationships that they build with their students to tap on this opportunity. And together, maintain a community of mutual value outside of the physical campus to drive continuous success.

Start your transformation journey. Download more resources on digital transformation for higher education and research here.

This blog post originally appeared in the Digitalist.

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