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How can universities invest in tech whilst balancing budgets?

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The new year brings a new budget allocation and the perennial question of how to deliver value for money. Universities in the UK are already reported to be seeing a fall in their share of funding from the European Union Horizon 2020 project – even before the technicalities of Brexit have been ironed out. With this financial woe, it is essential that institutions become profitable in as many ways as possible. Research is undoubtedly a major contributor to the bottom line of our universities, but a focus on student enrolment and retention can also boost balance sheets – and in fact must be nurtured.

Technology is a key requirement in delivering efficiencies and gains that universities need to engage on a much deeper - and ultimately more profitable - level with students. A digital campus environment is being adopted in many of the UK’s institutions to a greater or lesser extent to help with these challenges. However, there is still the belief that building a digital campus is less expensive than buying it ‘off-the-shelf’. What isn't taken into account is the fact that many universities simply don’t have the resources to deploy a project of such scale. Typical implementation times are around 12 months when the project is in-house. By contrast, a solution such as myday can be implemented in as little as 6-8 weeks and further personalisation of the platform can be created by in-house architects if required. The roadmap is laid out and easily followed, evolved or scaled and costs are kept to a minimum in terms of time – keeping in-house teams focus on the business as usual tasks.

Strategic view

Universities are often locked into a culture of siloed thinking making it a challenge for the senior leadership team to bring about the digital changes required for increased student engagement. Universities often think departmentally from an academic perspective and this can spill over into university infrastructure and management.  In turn, this leads to budgets being split by departments missing the opportunity for joined-up thinking and delivery.  This would mean that investment in technology could be achieved to solve everyone’s challenges – IT, heads of departments, marketing, and the senior leadership teams.  Working as one institution undoubtedly means that budgets are deployed strategically from a top-down perspective, not tactically at a departmental level helping to deliver strategic goals. In those institutions that have delivered a digital campus to a successful conclusion, there has often been a matrix team created with key individuals across the different areas of the university to deliver the project for all.

A digital campus also means that existing implementations are put to better and increased use – users report that when a digital campus environment like myday is deployed, engagement in existing systems increases exponentially. They are easier to access, user-friendly and all contained in one easy-to-use dashboard. There is no requirement to replace systems, just to make them more available. In doing so, engagement soars.

Balancing act

The perception that technology is expensive, takes a long time to implement and is fraught with risks is simply unfounded, especially when weighed against the dangers of not digitising. Millennial students expect their universities to deliver resources and services to them in the way they consume all other services in life – digitally. Not doing so could, in fact, cost that institution dearly. There are countless examples of retailers on the high street who failed to digitise fast enough and are now brands of yesteryear– Blockbuster, HMV, Woolworths to name a few. The advantages of a digital campus far outweigh the costs and are necessary for student engagement and retention and impact the bottom line positively.  It’s a balancing act – ignore it at your peril.

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