Faced with change on pretty much every front, the UK’s universities are working in a challenging, often uncertain climate.
As the organisation that provides them with technological infrastructure and services, we want to understand more about the challenges that are occupying them the most and the plans that they are prioritising for action.
HE leadership barometer
So this spring, we invited leaders in every UK HE institution to take part in a study. We have used the 115 responses we received to develop our higher education leadership barometer 2016 - what this tells us will allow us to focus our resources to help UK institutions respond to their challenges and thrive. Now we know the outcome of the EU referendum, our survey findings resonate even more.
We asked participants to rank a number of challenges by how important they are in terms of their institution’s future success and also by the amount of effort that will be needed to achieve the right outcome.
What are the priorities for the sector?
The barometer shows that creating and sustaining a viable financial and funding model, able to adapt to changes in the market, is ranked as the highest priority in terms of importance to the success of the institution and it scored second highest for the amount of effort it will require. It’s likely that, universities will be tapping into a diverse variety of funding sources to achieve this aim. We are working to make sure they have efficient systems that can support the need to demonstrate return on investment and respond to an increasingly diverse range of funding sources.
The need to sustain learning excellence was another high priority, and we anticipate that this one is likely to become more important now that the Teaching Excellence Framework is looking to apply metrics to teaching quality. We have seen that learning excellence is also high on the agenda for learners, with a recent Jisc survey revealing that 72% of HE learners believe that when teachers use technology effectively, it enhances their learning experience.
Similarly, leaders pinpointed the need to create an agile organisation that can manage and react to change effectively – and they worry, too, that it is likely to involve the most effort. A genuinely agile institution will be able to anticipate change and react appropriately to it but it will need to have its people and its processes all operating in a genuinely flexible way. This will mean they need the right teams with appropriate, up-to-date skills as well as robust, reliable infrastructure.
Discrepancies in the results
All this is pretty much in line with our expectations but we also uncovered some things we hadn’t expected.
Meeting student expectations as these evolve and become more demanding was ranked second most important to institutional success, but only third in terms of the amount of effort required. Today’s students want to collaborate not only with peers on their course but increasingly with those in other institutions nationally and internationally; tomorrow’s students will expect it as a basic requirement.
We strongly believe that students should be enabled by technology and this area should have more investment. We are supporting this through our Jisc change agents' network – a network of students working together to enhance the curriculum through innovation.
Students also expect to be able to access resources anywhere, at any time and on any device. These increasingly high expectations will place many demands on the institution’s technology infrastructure.
Similarly, I think that the issue of managing intellectual property and reputation needs greater attention. It ranked lowest in terms of the perceived effort needed to ensure success even though the task of protecting the institution, its brand, intellectual property and reputation against threats is ever more complex. HE institutions need to be ready for the scale of the risk they face as the shortage of experienced professionals in these areas become more acute over the next few years.
How do you make institutions more attractive to students and academics?
We also explored ways in which leaders hoped to make their institutions more attractive to their stakeholders and weren’t surprised to see these ranking highly:
- Giving students an any time, anywhere learning experience – there are significant technological challenges but it addresses the core priority of meeting student expectations
- Enabling academic staff to deliver the best possible learning experience – all academic staff will need the tools and skills to enhance their teaching capabilities
- Providing access to data – providing managers and academic staff with the data they need, and tools to interrogate and present it, will enable the institution to make informed decisions quickly
These are areas where we are already adding value for many UK universities and we’ll work on developing what we offer to make sure they continue to meet the rapidly-changing needs of our HE sector.
Share your thoughts
If you’d like to share your own thoughts on this subject please get in touch with Louisa Dale, director Jisc group sector intelligence.