New perspectives on education’s digital future

While many students are proficient users of social media and mobile apps, those who are new to higher education have faced a huge shift in their academic careers – remote learning. Enabling the sector to deliver learning via the internet has been the job of CIOs across the country, and it’s been a Herculean task for some university and college IT staff.

Regardless of where universities were on their digital journey prior to recent months, the resultant shift to remote and hybrid learning has levelled the playing field across the higher education sector. It’s offered benefits to both students and staff, with more flexibility, accessibility and better management of classes with improved student engagement, but it has also highlighted other challenges, too: digital poverty and differences in digital capabilities.

Microsoft recently partnered with ucisa, the member-led professional body for digital practitioners in education, for a series of in-depth qualitative interviews with 14 CIOs and Heads of IT at universities across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to capture their insights and perspectives on education’s digital future. The key findings are:

  • IT staff enabled remote operations for just under three million students, lecturers, researchers, academic leaders and support staff at a pace never witnessed previously across the UK
  • CIOs remain in broad agreement that the higher education institutions set to be most successful in this new era are those that can harness the benefits of remote learning – combined with the best elements of being on campus
  • The newfound visibility and authority CIOs have enjoyed through their role in moving their institutions onto remote learning has meant any notion of them being simply a “delivery team” is now null and void
  • CIOs are conscious of not wanting to accrue “technical debt”. Having prioritised short-term solutions to address immediate needs, they now recognise that further digitalisation must be driven strategically to ensure interoperability and security is built in
  • While there is work to be done to facilitate a blended approach that yields pedagogical, operational and financial results, CIOs are best placed to support on a long-term digital strategy as the sector continues its transformation

Quote from University of South Wales

According to Universities UK, higher education institutions, along with their international students and visitors, generate £95 billion for the UK economy. This includes things such as funds generated by links with businesses, research and money spent by staff and students in the local area. Therefore, it is vital to get the right digital solutions that can support a hybrid delivery model.

Deborah Green, Chief Executive of ucisa, said: “This joint report highlights the key role CIOs and the teams they lead have played in enabling the higher education sector’s recent response. As one Vice-Chancellor put it, ‘our IT team has delivered four years worth of digital strategy in six weeks’. The perspectives in this report are vital for suppliers and the industry to hear, as the facilitation of hybrid learning and the collaboration across institutions continues.”

Mark Rowland, Senior Product Marketing Manager for SMB and Education at Microsoft UK, added: “At Microsoft, we view supporting and empowering these institutions as key to our mission of helping every individual and organisation on the planet achieve more. The insights here are a testament to the collaborative nature of higher education and a fascinating window into a sector in the midst of unprecedented changes.”

Click here to download the full report.

To learn more about the results of the study, or to speak to someone about device options for your school, please visit our webpage here.