Peter Nikoletatos, Global Industry Director – Education at TechnologyOne, shares the findings from a recent report about student attitudes to the digital world and their expectations from their university
As universities are suddenly forced into a purely digital world, as campus learning is off the agenda for the foreseeable future, it’s more crucial than ever for the new generation of students to get the support they need. Unlike previous generations, they were born into a world where the internet, social media and instant access to information has always existed. As the first digital natives, Generation Z and its attitudes towards technology are having a significant impact on the teaching and learning environment within higher education.
These students can often be more familiar with technology than their lecturers, so it’s important, more than ever during these unprecedented times, that higher education providers are prepared to meet the needs of these tech-savvy learners. In order to equip themselves, universities must first understand the technological expectations of this generation and what these students want from their university experience as a whole.
Unsurprisingly, choosing the right degree remains top of mind when students select a university. However, new research reveals that factors forming part of the student experience such as the reputation of the institution, accessibility to facilities and geographic location all play a part in the final decision. The UK study, commissioned by Enterprise SaaS Provider, TechnologyOne, in partnership with YouGov, surveyed more than 1,000 university students to find out what they want from their experience.
While certain factors such as course and overall reputation remained the most influential, the key takeaway from the research is that almost 90% of students are most concerned with a consistent digital experience from their university and placed significant importance on having online access to administrative information processes, such as registration and enrolment documents, timetables and exam information.
Consistency is the key to success
With tuition fees sharply rising over the last ten years and rumoured to increase for EU citizens in Autumn 2020 due to Brexit, student expectancy is high. In an industry where success is measured on student feedback, keeping up with those expectations is integral to remaining competitive.
The findings show there is a real need for higher education providers to ensure standardisation across all digital offerings and interactions. An optimised student experience is not just a ‘nice to have’, it’s an essential part of attracting and retaining students in an increasingly competitive market. Universities are vying on a global stage for students and the reality is that only those offering high-quality and consistent digital experiences will have the competitive edge.
The survey confirms that students want technology to enable their journey through university, not disrupt it with change. The security and trust which comes from systems that work behind the scenes to make life easy for staff and students is essential.
Digital natives demand innovation
While there is high demand for a digitised and innovative student experience, the study revealed that a large proportion are left uninspired with the current use of technology in their courses. Only 11% of students characterised the technology they interact with as ‘innovative’, while 64% described it as merely ‘functional’.
Failure to innovate and implement smart campus solutions to enhance the student experience may prove detrimental to remaining competitive. Currently, only one in five universities are using smart devices during lectures or offer campus navigation apps or maps that can be accessed via a smart device, and only 3% have adopted AI technology, such as chatbots.
To determine the actual importance of technology and innovation on the student experience, study participants were asked if they would consider switching to a different university if it provided better levels of technology and innovation. More than half (59%) indicated that they would consider doing so, demonstrating its high level of importance in the overall educational experience. Therefore, higher education providers must work to harness more innovative solutions to improve the campus experience for a wider, more diverse and digitally savvy cohort of students.
What matters most?
Digitally optimised experiences not only provide students with seamless and easy processes but also increase the number of data touchpoints and opportunities to gather information about the student population. This data can be used by universities in many ways, from streamlining administration, increasing student retention and improving academic performance to managing the entire student lifecycle.
Further key findings from the research include:
- Only 19% of respondents use smart devices in lectures
- Only 18% have a smartphone campus map app
- Only 3% have chatbots or AI in evidence on their university website
- Only 11% of students would categorise the use of technology on their course as innovative
- 65% characterise the technology on their course as functional
By looking to the future and optimising the end-to-end student experience, higher education providers are creating happier and more engaged students. The introduction of digital processes also mirrors the modern workplace, helping to build a digitally confident workforce that’s ready to meet the digital skill demands of tomorrow. Only through digitally optimised experiences can higher education providers take advantage of efficiencies and ensure they are focused on what’s important: driving cost-effectiveness, improving student outcomes and developing a lifelong learning partnership. There’s simply no choice anymore, universities need to adapt to the changing world and adopt digital strategies to support their students or risk being left behind.