Universities are changing and so are the skills needed in their higher education IT workforce. Heriot-Watt University's Kathy McCabe reports back from a global IT conference on some of the trends we can expect.
I attended the EDUCAUSE annual conference 2018 in the US city of Denver as part of a working party comprising IT leaders from UK and US universities convened by Jisc and EDUCAUSE to look jointly at the future of IT in higher education (HE) and shaping its workforce.
Having explored trend reports, horizon scans and workforce surveys in our sector and beyond, we identified several recurring themes that also cropped up at the conference.
A technological shift
Externally, the significant technological shift anticipated as part of the fourth industrial revolution to embed artificial intelligence and robotics, coupled with the reduction in "processing jobs", heralds a major shift in the types of roles and skills required for the future.
This has an impact on both our workforce and our future students and, indeed, the sorts of education programmes they will seek.
In the past, there has been an emphasis on the technical side of the IT skillset, but now the skill in highest demand from IT staff is the ability to communicate well. There is also a noticeable requirement for skills such as creating, evaluating and analysing, previously the domain of the CIO, to be spread further across the technology functions.
Internally, organisations are increasingly seeing technology as a tool to guide change, as well as solving problems and fixing stuff. Interestingly, quality of life has been a key factor in driving staff retention, as evidenced by the EDUCAUSE workforce study.
Our session at EDUCAUSE 2018 enabled the panel members to share their views and experiences from a broad range of institutions, both in the UK and US and it was striking how similar those experiences and observations were. The discussion covered a wide range of topics from the strategic contribution of IT, skillsets, diversity, development and retention.
Change is here already
The one thing everyone agreed on wholeheartedly is that change in IT isn’t around the corner, it’s here already and we all need to embrace it, to engage with each other and to guide our institutions wisely.
Other discussions at the event centred on the HE business model and how sustainable it is. One question is whether a degree will still be desirable against the increasing debts racked up during the process, with the prediction that six-figure fees will appear around 2024.
What will all this mean for the university of the future? The importance of these issues and challenges to HE IT was reflected in the number of sessions at the conference geared towards issues and innovative approaches in learning and teaching, rather than purely technical topics which you would expect at an IT conference.
Shaping the future workforce project
You can keep up to date with the progress of our project on "Technology in higher education: shaping the future workforce" on the EDUCAUSE working group homepage.
We’re looking to gather case studies, stories and ideas from the HE IT community in the UK and US.
If you’re interested in contributing to our discussions, we would love to hear from you. You can add your stories and ideas to our shaping the future workforce survey.