The results are in from our second annual higher education leadership survey, exploring what is looming large on the horizons for those in senior leadership positions in UK higher education.
Six challenges facing HE leaders
We asked leaders to assess the importance of six challenges we know are currently of concern (see results below). With uncertainty over Brexit, competition from overseas providers, and the regulatory environment in English higher education (HE) poised to undergo significant changes over the next couple of years, it’s no surprise to find creating and sustaining a viable financial and funding model in top spot for the sector as a whole.
Running at a very close second was meeting the changing needs and expectations of today’s local and global students, confirming findings elsewhere in the survey which identify students as the most important stakeholders to the future success of HE institutions.
Leaders from research-intensive institutions seemed most keenly aware, among the groups we talked to, of the importance of protecting their institution from threats, both from cyber criminals. It follows our cyber security survey earlier this year, which revealed a rise of 132% in the mean amount assigned to cyber security between 16/17 and 17/18 to a projected figure of £797,500.
Institutions in Scotland and Northern Ireland highlighted the challenges around student expectations, while in Wales delivering a complete learning experience was most important.
As a membership organisation, it’s really important for us to understand the challenges our members face, so that we can best assist with solutions. The data collected will add focus to how we help universities respond to changing student expectations and government priorities, to help them to continue to compete at an international level.
What’s going to be hardest to achieve?
We also asked leaders which of these six challenges would require the most effort to overcome.
Overall, leaders identified creating an agile institution as the hardest hill that they have to climb, slightly ahead of creating and sustaining a viable financial and funding model.
Compared to last year’s survey, the two areas in which additional effort was felt to be needed were; meeting the changing needs of students, and creating the optimum environment for teaching excellence and delivering a complete learning experience - perhaps reflecting the influence of the national conversation around teaching excellence and the holistic student experience.
We’ve also been seeing this focus reflected in very high levels of sign-ups to our 2018 student digital experience tracker, which enables universities and colleges to explore what their students think about many aspects of their digital learning experience.
What would help universities to improve their attractiveness to individuals, employers and other stakeholders in a highly competitive market?
We asked the same question last year and, since then, two possibilities in particular have increased in importance - tools to enhance teaching capabilities were mentioned by 68% (up from 58% in 2016) and access to data to aid decision-making, mentioned by 59% (up from 50%).
These were both themes which our co-design work with stakeholders flagged as emerging needs from 2014 onwards, so we have been developing services to support institutions in these areas.
One example which could help here is a learning analytics service we’re developing as part of our effective learning analytics programme. A number of universities have already signed up and it is helping them to collect, process and analyse data to inform business decisions and to improve student wellbeing, retention and attainment.
Data-informed decision making is also supported through our analytics labs process, which enables agile multi-institutional teams to get hands-on with national datasets to derive insights and build data capability.
We’re also working on building digital capability to ensure that staff have the skills and confidence to exploit the potential of digital technologies. We offer a digital leaders training programme to enable leaders to guide their organisations through digitally inspired change – the next sessions are in January 2018.
Continuing to meet our members’ needs
In total, more than three quarters (78%) of respondents to this year’s HE leaders survey said that Jisc’s products and services align with their organisation’s needs. That proportion is higher than last year and we’ll be responding to the latest findings to make sure the figure is higher still in 2019, but also, that Jisc is helping to support the education and research sector as a whole.
Over the coming months we’ll continue to share with our members all the products and services available to help overcome a range of challenges faced across the education and research sectors. Part of how we’ll be sharing solutions and best practice includes a programme of events such as Digifest, our stakeholder forum and Networkshop46.
For further information on the HE leaders survey, please contact Nick Beevors (firstname.lastname@example.org). For information on the 2018 student digital experience tracker, please contact Sarah Knight (email@example.com).