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Increasingly, it’s experience that counts most in Higher Education
By Jennifer Reilly
Marketing Manager Public Sector at Hewlett Packard Enterprise
The business model for today’s Higher Education establishments is far more competitive and cut-throat than ever before, with institutions vying to attract the best students and teaching staff; fighting to develop and protect revenue streams; and building and defending that very reputation for academic excellence which drives the entire enterprise.
Crucial to facilitating every part of that process is choosing the right IT infrastructure and partners to enable the eco-system of the university to flourish and grow.
That’s why so many academic institutions are looking to expert technology partners to help guide and facilitate their future investment to ensure their IT infrastructure offers the flexibility, scalability and agility to support innovation.
After all, if you’re not giving people a reason to choose you over the competition, your organisation is set up to fail at the first test…
Higher Education is raising the game
And the first test is, of course, to attract the right kinds of students in the right kinds of numbers in order to stand any chance of meeting revenue forecasts. At a time when the pool of aspiring 18 year old A-level graduates is shrinking; when funding reforms could potentially be reducing student fees; and when nervousness over the implications of our uncertain Brexit is taking the shine off Britain as a golden destination for international students… well, let’s just say that the future is certainly looking challenging for the Higher Education sector.
So in order to ensure the best intake result, you must be seen not only to offer the courses with the greatest long-term career value, taught by the most respected educators, but also the best connected, collaborative and enriching university experience.
Long gone are the days when it was enough to run the same classic course in the same traditional learning environment. The university of the future enshrines promoted, personalised learning, framed in a proactive, interactive environment of collaboration between students, lecturers, tutors and, potentially, between separate universities.
Welcome to the Smart Campus
The idea of the Smart Campus connects straight back to the wider current thinking around Smart Cities; and it’s a classic illustration of HPE’s vision of ‘Edge computing’, where hot data is instantly processed precisely when and where it’s generated – by the ever-increasing numbers of mobile devices and the ever-evolving forms of ‘Internet of Things’ technologies, right at the edge of the network, where it never needs to put any pressure on the data centre.
By enabling the university’s IT infrastructure to deal with, decide on and react to all that data that’s not privacy-sensitive and that doesn’t actually need to be sent to the cloud for storage, the intelligent edge can actually give the university a very tangible competitive edge.
After all, what today’s tech-savvy students demand from their choice of academic institution is an always-on, always-connected, instant experience, from Open Day right through to Graduation – and beyond. And the benefits to a university of successfully offering that optimal experience (through, for example, HPE’s Aruba networking solution) are far wider-reaching than simply enabling students to navigate to the right lecture theatre on day one of Fresher’s Week!
Adding lessons in life to the university experience
For example, it’s increasingly common for students to work their way through university, subsidising their subsistence costs with part-time employment. Learning the valuable skills of flexible working, time management, meeting submission deadlines and still achieving a work/life balance – ‘on the job’ as it were – is clearly a superb training for professional post-uni life.
But making that complex equation work depends on the ability to plan university studies around ‘paying work’ – ensuring that there’s going to be a free desk available when they get to the library; accessing learning materials at any time of the day; even knowing which café has the shortest queue to facilitate grabbing a sandwich between lectures!
In fact, it’s not just the academic institution that’s a 365x24x7 enterprise… it’s every single student, each of whom relies on their university to provide that versatile, reliable IT infrastructure to make their own personal situation work smoothly.
Attract, educate… and retain!
Of course, the university experience isn’t universally great for everyone. Historically, when a student was struggling, the first sign that anything was amiss was often just an empty seat at the first tutorial after the Christmas break. Of course, once a student has dropped out, as well as representing a major missed opportunity for that individual’s future and prospects, it’s also a massive hole in the institution’s revenue stream for the next three or four years – revenue that simply cannot be replaced.
However, technology now exists that can monitor attendance at lectures, performance with course work and interaction with peers within the faculty. All this feedback makes it easier to spot early signs of difficulty and allows staff to reach out to students and retrieve the situation before it spirals out of control.
It’s a next-generation empowered approach to pastoral care; and it illustrates just one of numerous broader social benefits that can derive from a truly connected student experience.
In fact, it’s not too fanciful to imagine the behaviour patterns of every ‘citizen’ on the Smart Campus operating as an always-on sensor, monitoring and gauging the core health of the entire community.
For example, the ready access of data concerning the times of heaviest student usage of libraries, shops, health centres, cafeterias etc. enables more informed business planning to gear available resources around actual needs, thereby reducing wastage and driving efficiencies.
Powering research for tomorrow
There’s an equal and commensurate pressure on universities to provide the optimal lifetime career experience to attract and retain the highest calibre educators. So by guaranteeing teaching staff the facilities they need, such as high-performance compute solutions that deliver faster insights, run high-performance data analytics and fuel artificial intelligence, the university can also become a much more attractive and nurturing environment for their academic aspirations.
World-class research projects (such as HPE’s Cosmos Research Group* partnership with the University of Cambridge or the Catalyst UK** supercomputer collaboration with the Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh and Leicester) not only build and consolidate individual reputations but also establish educational institutions as centres of exceptional Higher Education excellence and provide a valuable additional source of incremental revenue.
The resulting accelerated circle of success will lead inexorably to universities of the immediate future reaching beyond the confines of campus to become truly collaborative hubs of learning and empowerment, driving knowledge and society forward.
But surely, such an ambitious world view can only be achieved if those very institutions commit to investing massively in titanic and cost-prohibitive IT provision?
A new way of IT thinking and planning
It’s not just students and lecturers who are witnessing a shift in the way tech influences their day-to-day experience of life in Higher Education.
Far more so than their counterparts in industry and manufacturing, university IT departments have traditionally faced a huge challenge in forecasting IT usage patterns. The sheer diversity of the Higher Education organisation has always entailed massive (and largely unforeseeable) ‘peak and trough’ fluctuations in IT requirements, and the traditional solution has been costly (and inevitably wasteful) over-provisioning.
And just because students are in recess doesn’t mean the pressure is off; as a case in point, the time associated with maximum stress on the IT infrastructure – Clearing Day – occurs precisely when the campus is largely deserted. With so much resting on the imperative to recruit maximum numbers of students, that’s the one time that IT cannot afford to have systems let them down!
However, the advent of consumption-based fast cloud models, such as HPE GreenLake, has been a game-changer for university IT departments, enabling them to balance the need for short-term agility with a longer-term plan for increased capacity. So now, the university can pay for what it needs today, know that its IT can scale up seamlessly and with total security as needs change and innovation demands AND that it will only actually pay for additional benefits as and when they are realised.
Future success is all about experience
To succeed in offering a genuinely differentiating level of connected, collaborative experience to students, staff and fellow institutions, you need a partner who can not only bring their own wealth of experience to the table but also, in turn, introduce trusted expert partners to the mix. And that collaborative approach is precisely how HPE seeks to deliver on the promise of ‘the Art of the Possible’. With technology solutions and services that accelerate your entire organisation – from the intelligent edge and multi-cloud environments to data-driven insights from emerging technologies – HPE is best placed to help the Higher Education sector achieve excellence today. And into the future.
Find out more about how HPE can help deliver better outcomes for your higher education institution