A few months ago, we conducted some analysis in partnership with Anderson Anderson & Brown Consulting, looking at digital developments within Universities both within the UK and internationally. The purpose behind the research was to get beyond the ‘smoke and mirrors’ that typically position digital is the answer (never mind the question) to identify which initiatives and which institutions have made a positive difference to their staff and student experiences. The driver for conducting the research was to test the growing evidence that investing in digital capabilities offers significant opportunities for transformation in higher education institutions; of particular interest to me as the CTO at the University of Glasgow. With the COVID-19 crisis casting a dark shadow over all aspects of our lives, we have been reflecting on our findings and questioning where universities now stand and what role could digital play in our new ‘normal’.
A more ‘digital’ future must be imagined, planned and implemented properly. The student and staff experiences (and how they are improved by digital capabilities) must be at the forefront of our thinking. We must make, build on and maximise our investment in modern information infrastructure, we must redesign our processes & services and develop fit-for-purpose policies & governance. Finally, it demands strong leadership (in the form of a CIO or CDO) who will champion the voice of users and secure the trust of senior leaders. Without this suite of changes, current systems and human resources will reach their capacity very quickly and there will be systemic failure. The universities that adopt this more digital mindset and become more agile will have a much better chance of survival and will certainly have more resilience to carry them through the further waves of disruption in the coming months and years. However, it is not a game of ‘I and you’, it is important for universities to put aside the notion of competition and turn to collaboration in their efforts to ensure high quality student experiences. This is particularly important given the vital role of universities in the UK post-COVID economic recovery through Research & Development, innovation, and the up- and re-skilling of the labour market.
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