Futureproofing universities

Futureproofing universities

How can tech help? By Kas Mohammed, VP of Digital Energy at Schneider Electric

UK Universities are facing an existential crisis. Unprecedented technological disruption, internationalisation and cuts to funding, as well as changing student expectations, combine to create a perfect storm for higher education establishments. Universities that fail to adapt, may become extinct.

To meet these challenges, universities need to make long term decisions. Fundamentally, they must design strategies that factor in market changes. This means proactively developing a futureproof infrastructure that can adapt and flex to any and all developments.

All universities must question their investments with the future in mind.

Four ways to futureproof universities:

  1. Experience

Prioritising student experience is critical to securing the future success of universities. With increased competition, institutions must effectively invest in improving student services.

Increasingly, universities are looking to ramp up their digital offering in line with the wider economy. Online services, such as portals and mobile apps, are key to achieving this goal. Mobile apps can offer admissions information, orientation schedules, activities, and map progress toward academic goals.

Mobile apps are able to empower students to fully control their university experience. Sophisticated ‘engagement’ apps allow businesses and universities to host internal and external services on one user-friendly platform. For example, this could offer new students’ way-finding functionality, and combined with their induction timetable, can prevent any flustered late entries to their new classmates. Alternatively, catering services could be aligned with lecture timetables and attendance, to strategically forecast the amount of food required and prepare those coffees and toasties ahead of time.

Alongside the academic aspect of university, a student’s social life also plays a pivotal role in their experience. Engagement apps can inform students of social events and provide travel information so they can arrive on time. This common platform can enable students to attend events and meet fellow students that they may not otherwise have.

Students are now digitally native. Consequently, as technology plays a greater role in our lives, it will also be crucial to improve the student experiences.

  1. Security

Universities present a high-value target, as they are responsible for a vast amount of private and personal data. With cyber threats a growing issue across all sectors, universities must do all in their power to safeguard the data of students and staff.

Many universities remain at risk of cyber-security breaches and attacks, as they often use multiple, disparate and outdated systems. To combat this, they are increasingly partnering to create shared cybersecurity centres that monitor threats around the clock, while encouraging students and faculties to take extra steps to protect data.

However, constantly monitoring for threats takes up huge amounts of labour and can be extremely costly. Therefore, universities should consider emerging tech such as Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered tools to identify suspicious behaviours.

Another option is universities empowering students to wield more control over their academic credentials and data after graduation or using blockchain to create secure digital records of learning and credentials.

In addition to the threats from online hackers, universities need to protect against physical breaches. Campuses need to carefully consider the physical access controls integrated into buildings, as they play a vital role in the security of buildings and the people and high-value data within.

  1. IT Infrastructure

An IT infrastructure across the scale of a university campus requires continuous investment. It needs to service thousands of staff, and potentially tens of thousands of students. They, in turn, need a 24/7 system with access to links and communication around the world.

Data management at large institutions, with a fluid user base, is especially challenging.  Every university department needs to be on board with the most up-to-date systems, from communication to financial management, learning resources to student information.

Modern universities are increasingly turning to advanced analytics systems to inform and improve their decision making. These systems are particularly important as universities switch to smart campus systems. These can tell users where spare parking spaces can be found, allocate meeting rooms, detect a lightbulb failure, or organise campus dorms for new arrivals.

  1. Building Management

Almost all universities have a limited amount of space for the demands on their infrastructure. Many are under pressure to accommodate a growing number of students, along with competing demands for facilities and resources. Thus, creating spaces that are flexible and reconfigured easily to suit different needs is an important part of the building management function. They need to make constant changes in the patterns of use.

Facilities are vital to the overall student experience. According to research of 1,000 students carried out by the London School of Economics (LSE) Estates Division and the Higher Education Design Quality Forum (HEDQF), 76% ranked campus facilities as either ‘quite’ or ‘very’ important to student life.

Putting in place the correct Building Management Solutions is critical when it comes to optimising occupant comfort. For students creating comfortable buildings has a hugely positive impact on their experience. 

Going forward, technologies such as Virtual Reality are set to unlock a new level of personalised learning experience. Students will no longer have to be in the classroom to receive the classroom experience. By combining digital content, classroom technology, and faculty training, universities can continue to offer the highest possible level of learning.

Successful futureproofing

Universities that design their offerings with the future in mind will be able to take advantage of any and all developments. Therefore, senior leaders must focus on transforming the way academics work, securing data, improving student services, and modernising IT to support future innovation on campus.

Investment in technology alone is not enough. Educational institutions must evaluate the systems that can improve service and efficiency today and tomorrow if they are to meet the challenges of an increasingly digital world.

For further information on the solutions Schneider Electric provides for campuses, visit here: https://www.se.com/uk/en/work/solutions/for-business/education/