The future of higher education is changing. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, universities and other higher education institutions were noticing a shift towards a more digital world. But in today’s turbulent world of social distancing, a digitalised education isn’t a far-distant fantasy anymore – it is something that universities and students alike are craving.
The idea of a digital university isn’t revolutionary. Staffordshire University became the first university in the UK to adopt a digital assistant in 2019. The mobile phone app used at Staffordshire University, referred to as Beacon, is hosted on Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform. The main feature of the app is the chatbot. The bot is there to help students by answering questions; suggesting societies to join; ordering new student cards, or even applying for council tax exemption. Not only does it personalise the education experience, but the app also helps to reduce teacher’s workload, reduce admin costs and improve the wellbeing of staff. As use increases, the app becomes smarter - whether students use the apps to confide in, or to help motivate them to learn.
Chatbots have been increasingly growing in popularity - as are digital assistants. While few universities currently use them to improve the student experience, surely there is more to the future of higher education? Student experience is the most important area to develop for universities. Students are customers, and as with any other business, customer happiness is essential for growth. And where is the ‘happiest place on earth’? Disney World.
Disney has perfected the customer experience at their Disney World and Disney Land resorts. There’s a reason why families return year after year, and that’s because of the overall experience. Disney’s MagicBands act as a personal assistant throughout the customers time at the resort, by working as hotel keys, credit cards, tickets and much more. By using the MagicBands, customers can pre-order food at their favourite restaurant, that will be ready as soon as they walk in – thanks to the tracking function of the bands. Now, what if universities took inspiration from this?
By using the concept of trackable wrist bands, we can imagine a brand-new student experience. The bands would act as credit cards and tickets as they do at Disney, with the possibility to also function as student ID cards, library cards, accommodation keys, parking permits or laundry cards. The bands could track the amount of time students spend in certain areas of the university, who they hang out with, what time they visit the library – the possibilities are seemingly endless. Taking this technology a step further, the bands could even track how engaged students are in lectures by measuring typing/writing movements.
It’s easy to imagine these wristbands in a dystopian novel or an episode of Black Mirror, but as technology evolves rapidly, concepts like this may be more achievable than it seems. The truth is, present-day universities are swiftly becoming out-dated, and there is a variety of alternative options available to prospective students. With high costs, a lack of distance learning programmes and a slow pace, other options are becoming more attractive. Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact on the higher education industry. Even the most sought-after universities are witnessing a decline in applicants, and student attrition is a threat across the country. Harvard is facing a $415 million revenue drop due to the pandemic - while other methods of obtaining qualifications continue to grow in popularity.
Take Google’s new professional career certificates. Costing just under $300 and taking only six months to complete, the certificates are treated as an equivalent of an undergraduate degree by recruiters. Once the certificate has been obtained, students can apply to roles within Google without the need for a degree. As the median wage at Google is $93,000, it is easy to see why the certificate is more attractive than traditional degree routes.
Take inspiration from ‘the happiest place on earth’. Embrace the digital era and take your student experience to the next level.
Working with Crimson to leverage Microsoft, third-party and Crimson’s accelerators for Microsoft Dynamics 365, universities can deliver richer student engagements and unlock the power of data to automate and enhance the student experience.