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In the last few years, businesses across almost every sector have adopted varying digital capabilities. This trend has only been accelerated by COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing need to conduct business remotely. One sector that has had to catch-up and adapt for the digital age is education, which has traditionally been conducted primarily face-to-face. However, the ongoing pandemic has catapulted change throughout the sector, particularly higher education, after being dealt a significant blow by the international border closure in March 2020.

Kuldeep Pandita, Head of Education Business at TCS ANZ, explores the ‘University of the Future’ and how the higher education sector can leverage its current challenges to create opportunities and a more sustainable university model for the future.

Posted: August 2021

Q: What does the ideal university of the future look like?

Traditionally, universities have been bricks-and-mortar-based establishments, teaching certain age groups, specific subjects in one campus-based location. Over the next ten years, there will be a shift to skill-based learning to address specific industry needs, a transition that will be driven by technological innovation. Leveraging state-of-the-art technologies combined with tech-savvy students’ reliance on their own devices, blending traditional and non-traditional teaching methods will become the norm.

The availability and accessibility of technology is changing the landscape in which people learn and there is growing industry collaboration with higher education institutions. With a greater understanding of industry and business challenges, and the way these sectors are evolving, universities have the opportunity to create more specific modular courses that address business and societal, needs, problems and opportunities.

Students are paying an increasingly high fees and want to get more out of their university experience. Industry and university collaboration, combined with an increasingly common learn-from-anywhere approach, will also result in more hands-on learning opportunities via internships and placements. This will lessen the gap between higher education and the world of work by offering experiences to work with practitioners, understand the required skill sets and how to apply their knowledge in a work environment.

The learn-from-anywhere approach will encourage and enable students to pick-and-choose relevant and customisable modular degree courses, resulting in improved accessibility to the best universities and degree programs.

The jobs market in Australia is increasingly competitive and just having a degree does not open the same doors as it used to. Universities of the future will understand this and support students to gain the necessary skills and experience to thrive in their chosen career path.

Q: Universities have been under immense pressure to shift to digital learning in the wake of COVID-19. What do you see as the most important digital feature universities can offer students?

The ongoing pandemic has accelerated the provision and uptake of digital learning across the higher education sector.

Driven by necessity, digitalisation has the potential to provide significant and long-term transformation to the ways in which learning is delivered and universities operate.

In addition to the basic requirement to provide online versions of courses, universities must ensure that all students are equipped with suitable devices and connectivity. Not only will this ensure that even the most disadvantaged of students are able to continue to engage but will also help to deliver.

It is crucial for higher education institutions to achieve a high level of engagement with students and there should be digital mechanisms in place to supplement the quality of online engagement. Leveraging technology to personalise the experience for students will help to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to successfully transition into the workforce. The use of analytics can support this personalisation by monitoring if students are logging in when they should be and whether they are engaging in classes, with their teachers, peers and the wider experience.

The provision of technology can support the delivery of the wider university experience whilst learning remotely by digitally creating a broader digital campus and a learn-from-anywhere ecosystem. Ensuring accessibility of technology and a digital mechanism in place to connect the university and students are essential for the survival of the University of the Future; and these will also help to mitigate against the potential longer-term loss of international students.

Q: Beyond digital learning opportunities, what else can technology provide universities of the future?

The management of universities is another area where technology can provide significant benefit, in the same way that businesses across other sectors have experienced the benefit of digital transformation.

Most Australian universities are already digitally transforming their core operations through innovative use of technology. Leveraging technology to improve the management of staff, budgets, data and deadlines, communication, collaboration and can improve efficiencies across large higher education institutions and offer increased agility in response to new ways of working.

Looking at the rising trend of cyber threats, technology can ensure universities are safe from cyber-threats. Universities can leverage cyber security partnerships with Industries to keep campuses and students safe.

Q: What can we learn from the accelerated push towards digital learning in the past year?

As most universities across the country have now digitally transformed, the greatest learning has been the understanding of the benefits this digitalisation can deliver, in both the short and the long term.

Digitalisation of the sector doesn’t mean isolated students learning via a screen, with little engagement and opportunity. In fact, the learn-from-anywhere approach can help to deliver greater engagement, collaboration and opportunities for both students and businesses across a much wider intake pool. With more digital learning opportunities to gain a broader and more practical skill set, this will help students transition from higher education to the world of work and hit the ground running, to the benefit of their future employers and sectors.

COVID has demonstrated that being ahead of the curve and having the willingness to embrace technology can support institutions, such as universities, navigate challenges. It has also demonstrated that the same learnings ring true for students’ education and the subsequent delivery of industry innovation.