University staff are in the digital transformation driving seat, and they need better directions

Headshot of Kat Heywood
Kathryn Heywood

Digital transformation stands to improve higher education for everyone - here’s why it’s so important to listen to the staff implementing it.

Staff in an office work at their laptops.

Digital transformation is a real revolution for higher education (HE), boosting flexibility, efficiency, resilience, and sustainability.

Integrating digital strategies into institutional frameworks enhances efficiency, resolves longstanding issues, and paves the way for innovative solutions that cater to the evolving needs of students and staff. The benefits are so boundless that many universities now view technology as intrinsic, not just an add-on or a ‘nice to have.’

It might seem at surface level to be about exciting new technologies and engaging new methods of delivery, but at its core, digital transformation is about empowering students and staff through innovation. It’s only possible when teaching and professional services staff feel confident in their digital skills.

Listening, learning, and supporting

At Jisc, our digital experience insights surveys are a chance for universities to gain valuable data about how their teaching and professional services staff, and students, use technology. Findings show what makes a positive difference to learning and working experiences, and where improvements can be made.

This year, our survey of professional services staff (pdf) found only 21% agreed that they were given an assessment of their digital skills and training needs, and only 26% were given the time to explore new digital skills and approaches.

Positively though, 71% rated the support given to them to work effectively online as above average. 88% reported that technology allows them to work in a way that’s convenient to them, and 83% said it helps them to make good progress with their work.

Our HE teaching staff report reveals teaching staff also need better support to make the most of technology. Only 16% agreed that they were given an assessment of their digital skills and training needs, and similarly 16% agreed they were given time to explore new digital skills and training approaches.

Evidently, and expectedly, there are areas for improvement. While there are clear positives to be taken from our digital experience insights surveys each year, there are always opportunities to improve and provide all university staff with the best working experience possible, based on their feedback.

What’s clear from this year’s surveys, is that staff need more dedicated support from the organisation to focus on their digital skills.

People are paramount

For successful digital transformation, a holistic, people-centred approach is key. After all, it’s the staff on the ground who are driving this exciting new era for HE. Now that’s easier said than done. HE leaders, as well as professional services and teaching staff, are all time-pressed, and true transformation also necessitates a digital-first cultural shift too.

To support, Jisc has recently released new resources to help universities make strategic moves towards a digital future. Universities now have access to a digital transformation in higher education guide, which shares how they can implement digital transformation. It covers digital and physical infrastructure, effective digital leadership, and organisational culture.

Supporting a new direction

The huge array of examples of digital transformation around the sector are already truly inspiring (you can read more in our report, digital strategies in UK higher education: making digital mainstream).

Each university is approaching their journey from a different starting point, but they all have a common driving force; the staff who are propelling the change. We owe it to them to provide them with the digital skills they need to create a brilliant future for students, and the future of higher education.

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About the author

Headshot of Kat Heywood
Kathryn Heywood
Head of business intelligence data analytics