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Enhancing the student experience, with cutting-edge IT and communications

Virtually every sector has been impacted by COVID-19, but the higher and further education sector has been hit especially hard, with staff, students and administrative staff feeling its effects. Institutes of learning are still exploring the ways technology can open up new channels of learning and engagement for students. This will not only futureproof their establishments, but do so in a cost-effective way that provides them with the agility to swiftly adapt to any future economic changes, including the likes of a COVID-scale crisis.
It's clear there are a wide range of opportunities technology provides to transform the way higher education is delivered and enhance the student experience, as opposed to just acting as a stopgap until we return to normal, but for most, we are just at the beginning of this journey.

Emerging from a difficult transitional period

In terms of bringing students online, the transition has been a tough one. When we entered lockdown in March, most colleges and universities simply did not have the infrastructure in place to accommodate their entire body of students, lecturers and staff logging on simultaneously, often leading to technical issues disrupting seminars and lectures. Even when the technology did work, a frequent criticism was that a Zoom or Skype call could never compete with a true face-to-face learning experience in terms of engagement, or the quality of the material presented.

However, if colleges and universities are to thrive in the post-COVID world, it's essential that they find a way to offer the same high standard of education remotely as they would in the traditional classroom environment. This is not simply a question of live-streaming or prerecording lectures. With remote lectures set to continue well into 2021, students are already expressing serious concerns about how this model will impact their studies in the long term and whether the outcomes will justify the fees they are paying, to the extent that 120,000 fewer students than normal are set to start university this September.

To maintain student retention, it's clear that a new approach to distance learning is required, where the student experience is enhanced and not hindered, but what should that look like and how can we best put it into practice?

Resilient infrastructure for a rapid response

There are several steps to transforming the role of technology in colleges and universities, the first of which is a scalable, flexible and secure infrastructure that will allow staff to rapidly pivot in response to students' requirements, without compromising security or cost control. In light of this, it's clear that the move towards Cloud-based technology, is continuing to accelerate compared to on-premise legacy hardware.

A multi-Cloud environment, combining Public and Private Cloud, is often opted for with centralised control for ease of management. This way, staff can remain interconnected, students can access the materials they need from anywhere, and all data is kept fully secure, in line with the relevant compliance requirements. What's more, this solution is easily scalable for different periods of time when usage and demand vary (clearing, for example), for full cost control.

A new way of communicating and collaborating for the academic world

The next step is enabling remote collaboration across multiple channels. An effective Unified Communications platform will ensure that students can effortlessly collaborate with their lecturers and each other, regardless of where they are located, helping to maintain the vibrant atmosphere of the lecture hall and seminar room.

Finally, with the increasing strain colleges and universities are facing regarding their budgets, delivering these solutions by an as-a-service model means only the resources consumed are charged for. This is an area in which Cloud solutions excel, enabling additional resources to be deployed via a centralised portal when needed, then removed immediately when no longer required – a truly scalable solution.

The next steps of the journey

It's clear with the constant evolution of technology and the requirement for colleges and universities to be more resilient than ever, the journey is never over where Digital Transformation is concerned. Join our webinar on Wednesday 9th September at 11:00AM where our CIO, Jonathan Bridges, will explore how, with the help of technology, higher and further education establishments can enhance the student experience, and can overcome the current market challenges of collaborating, operating and attracting students. 

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