Graham Galbraith, vice-chancellor, University of Portsmouth, and chair, long-term strategy network, Universities UK; David Maguire, interim principal and vice-chancellor, University of Dundee, and chair, Jisc; and Nic Newman, partner, Emerge Education and member of the Department for Education's Edtech Leadership Group:
"The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness of the central and strategic role that digital technologies play in underpinning the long-term success and sustainability of universities. While the ability to shift educational delivery online in a short period of time was impressive, this was done by necessity, not choice. The big – and as yet unanswered – question is the extent to which the benefits and opportunities we glimpsed in this period will lead to a more joined-up and holistic approach to the use of digital technologies in the future.
When the pandemic hit, some universities already had digital embedded throughout and were able to adapt quickly. Others found themselves casting around for ideas, skills and technologies. What it has shown is that developing a long-term strategy for digital is now more essential than ever, despite the evolving and uncertain circumstances we face.
Every university is different with different priorities, and with the current significant pace of change, university leadership teams will have to make conscious decisions on the role digital technologies will play in shaping their future. They will have many strategic questions to consider. This report explores these questions, not to provide simple answers, but to stimulate debate within executive teams and governing boards to help them reach the right decisions for individual universities.
The framework we present here is based on generous contributions of our peers in the sector, and it was thanks to them that we have been able to build a framework to address the strategic challenge of digital across a range of themes to support better outcomes for students, staff and the sector as a whole. We hope it will be useful in a wide variety of contexts.
For some, it will help chart a future strategy based on a digitally enabled offering and give them a new unique selling point. For others, it will support enhancing existing approaches with step-change improvements in student experience and learning. Others yet will be thinking about revisiting their current strategies in the light of lessons learned in the pandemic. What is clear is that doing nothing will not be an option in an increasingly competitive higher education market, where student and staff needs are changing as are the expectations of stakeholders, including governments.
We hope that this document will stimulate the kinds of thought-provoking and sometimes difficult discussions that lead to informed strategic choices. It is time we recognise digital technologies can no longer be an afterthought, but need to be established as a core consideration within institutional strategies and financial planning."