Tim Hearn, Director, UK Government and Public Services, VMware
It was interesting to hear in the news recently that as part of a radical government reform on education, universities will be permitted to increase their fees in return for offering higher quality teaching and an enhanced learning experience to students. The quality of education offered in our UK universities, and ‘value for money’ is a hotly debated topic, with students often graduating with a growing level of both debt and dissatisfaction with the substance of tuition received and resources made available to them during their studies.
It looks like this bill is being formulated to combat these very real issues. However, rising fees will certainly be matched by rising expectations – and universities will need to reconsider all aspects of internal strategy to keep students satisfied. A key component of this must surely be an evaluation of the facilities and IT services on offer in order to give – more technologically and digitally aware – students the experience they expect. As a minimum, students will expect agile IT services to be available across campus providing the ability to work anywhere and on the device they choose, whether this is their mobile phone, tablet or PC. Yet following some recent research, we uncovered that 20% of university IT leaders don’t think their institution is currently meeting student demands and only 12% enable students to use their own devices.
The variety of different demands on the infrastructure is already wide, and is set to expand further with students and staff using a range of devices such as virtual desktops, smart phones, and e-books, and wearable devices. To inspire student to learn, and attract the best talent, universities need to invest in new learning platforms and rich multimedia content to support teaching and learning. In addition, they are will need to expand their ability to deliver across the globe through distance and flexible learning, outreach centres and overseas campuses. Smarter technology based solutions will be critical in underpinning this progression and can provide invaluable support in so many ways, such as securing mobile access and seamlessly allowing students to access any application by any device. For example, an engineering student should be able to access university CAD software on their tablet in their halls of residence, rather than having to queue for a bespoke PC on campus, just as much as an English student should be able to access the latest coursework assignment on their mobile when they are abroad.
Universities need to build their own cloud services capability to enable academic and social access to a range of apps that reside both within the campus and in other clouds on the internet, something known as a Hybrid Cloud approach. Providing a cyber safe environment to enable such connectivity and access to apps from anywhere and on any device is increasingly challenging and complex for universities, but is rapidly becoming more important to students, employees, developer communities and researchers alike. New cyber security solutions that focus on apps rather than networks will need to be adopted by universities.
While students are now becoming used to a superior technology experience in their home lives, more universities need to start living up to these expectations. And so raising fees without improving these experiences will surely incur some questions. University leaders must understand that the adequate use of technology can significantly enhance both teaching to students and independent self-learning. Therefore at this sensitive time, and to critically avoid slipping down the rankings moving forward, universities need to invest wisely to attract this shrewd new era whilst incorporating these reforms comfortably and to the benefit of everyone.