Lil was appointed Group Chief Executive Officer of Oxford International in 2019, after serving as the Group Commercial Director since 2017. During her tenure at Oxford International, Lil has been successful in driving massive growth across the Academic Division and has steered the Group through significant business change and development during the Covid19 crisis. With over 20 years of senior management and leadership experience in education, Lil’s previous roles include Director of International Recruitment for Cavendish College, Head of International Operations for South Thames College, and most recently, International Director at BPP University. In addition to her current position as Group CEO at Oxford International, Lil also serves as an Advisory Board Member for IDP Connect, is a founding member and advisory board member at Business Women in Education, and Non-Executive Director at Corndel Limited.
At the risk of stating the obvious, I’ll start by saying that today’s university students are digitally savvy. We are all aware of this but it is clear to me that we haven’t fully grasped the implications of this digital savviness. Having grown up with search engines, social media platforms, and mobile phone payments, this generation lives a seamless digital life. In fact, according to a recent survey, 67% of students expect their university’s digital platforms to be as high quality as services like Facebook, Amazon, or Netflix. For many universities, this is an ambitious vision, but crucially it shouldn’t be an unthinkable one.
The pandemic ushered in a wave of innovation as companies and institutions alike scrambled to ‘digitalise everything.’ This also undoubtedly accelerated universities’ digital offerings, as the pandemic necessitated the delivery of learning exclusively through digital and online channels. Many universities are continuing these services post-pandemic: data suggests that almost a third of higher education courses are combining face-to-face teaching with online learning in 2022-23.
But among digital natives, digital delivery is not only expected – it needs to feel as good as a real-world experience. In fact, 91% of students expect a university’s digital services to be at least as strong as its face-to-face offering. This not only applies to coursework, but to their overall university experience including managing their wider student life, feeling a part of the community, and maintaining their well-being. For many, the quality of digital services at universities is falling short. To put it plainly, higher education must at minimum embrace online learning. To stand out, it needs to go beyond that. For many universities, 2023 is an opportunity to go beyond the basics and embed digitalisation into the ethos of their institution, allowing students to benefit from the kind of service they’ve come to expect from their favorite commercial digital platforms.
2023: a year digitalise in higher education
Digitalisation can take many forms – from building databases to developing online feedback platforms. The OECD’s Higher Education Policy team recently said digitalisation “holds enormous potential to enhance quality, equity, and efficiency in higher education.” Whether it’s automating time-intensive processes, widening access to education, reducing operational costs, or meeting heightened student expectations, digitalisation has a crucial role in the future of higher education.
Historically, universities were hesitant to embrace digitalisation, concerned about the investment and unintended consequences. Since the pandemic, universities have finally begun to capitalize on the opportunities provided by digitalisation.
In an age of mounting pressure on higher education institutions, harnessing the power of digitalisation can make all the difference. Between funding cuts in the sector and a looming global recession, the efficiency brought by digital solutions saves both time and money. It’s paramount that the sector comes to fully understand and take advantage of the benefits of modern, digital systems.
It is clear to me that 2023 should be the year that higher education fully embraces digitalisation, rather than shy away from it, and kick-starts a new wave of student-centric innovation.
Digital solutions in practice
The future of student success in higher education is inextricably linked to harnessing the potential of digitalisation to support academic pursuits. As such, higher education institutions cannot afford to be on the back foot, at the risk of letting down their students.
There are many aspects of the student experience that can benefit from digital updates. From admissions to student onboarding, from housing administration to student welfare services – digital processes can make these potentially daunting processes efficient, streamlined, and, importantly, more accessible. Students used to sleek digital platforms in their day-to-day life are beginning to demand that these administrative processes are upgraded. Crucially, if the administrative side of education is made more efficient, both institutions and students can focus on the most important aspect of higher education: education.
Perhaps the most important role of digitalisation in higher education is making learning more accessible. Using digital tools, students can access learning aides, resources, and courses wherever they are and on their own time. Digital tools can lighten the load on students juggling childcare, jobs, and long commutes on top of their education. The level of flexibility that digitalisation affords means that those who would struggle to access education in the past now have a chance to pursue their dreams.
I am not saying that digital learning will or should replace in-person coursework, but I firmly believe that harnessing the power of digital tools alongside traditional learning methods makes higher education fairer and more accessible to a wide and diverse pool of students. Digital natives use these modern methods in every aspect of their life and applying them to their education is a natural next step for them.
As we enter 2023, it is clearer now more than ever that effective digitalisation has the power to transform the efficiency of back-end processes, as well as student experience – empowering both institutions and individuals to prosper. Higher education institutions simply cannot afford to ignore the benefits of digitalisation.
The unfortunate reality, as highlighted by a joint report by NOUS Group and Oxford International, is that higher education institutions are increasingly struggling to keep pace with a changing world. From increasing competition for talent to financial woes to a simple lack of capacity – universities are facing a barrage of challenges that, when combined, threaten the resilience of the sector.
Of course, there is no silver bullet. These challenges are infinitely complex, but digitalisation presents an opportunity to take a robust step toward sustainable growth.
2023 will be a critical year for universities and I believe digitisation is the key to unlocking many of their key challenges. From enhancing the student experience to streamlining and reducing inefficiencies in back-end processes to making education more accessible – those who come out of 2023 stronger, more resilient, and more attractive to students will be the ones that stepped up to the mark and embrace digitalisation.