The Higher Education (HE) industry sector, which sees yearly revenues of ~£30 billion, is rarely out of the spotlight. Much of this attention is focused on the political pressures; whether from the new regulator and the constant policy changes on funding, or the likely impacts on future revenues as a (negative) consequence of Brexit.
Of course, economic pressures exist too; stemming from a decline in student numbers and the changing way that students can, and indeed want to, learn.
Social pressures are also driven by changing student demands. Transparent and open communication, enabled by social media, is increasing student aspirations and expectations for services - one example of which is university-provisioned Mental-Health and Well-being services. Secondly, there is increasing awareness of alternative options post A-level; apprenticeships are increasingly attractive for students who may be put off by rising tuition fees. Businesses are also recognising the potential benefits to the work force of a wider variety of recruitment paths.
Technology-driven pressures remain constant as Universities react to the rapid proliferation in the number of ways education can now be provisioned to different audiences, as well as the breaking-down of borders and increase in competition that remote-learning offers. Universities are finding that they need to balance "bricks and mortar" estate management with modern, intelligent ways of how students want to learn and perform research.
It’s easy to look at the quick PEST analysis above and look negatively upon the state of the HE sector, and this adds further pressures on Vice-Chancellors and HE colleagues. Our experience in Unipart is rather different. We have found Universities to be highly resilient, adaptable and agile. The Higher Education sector has survived hundreds of years of change – sometimes forced upon it and at other times proactively managed. A combination of Insight, Hindsight and Foresight having often brought about change for good. So it is because of these pressures, not despite them, that the opportunities for HE institutions are immense.
From the work we do within the sector we have seen examples and exemplars of opportunities being grasped and implemented:
- Strategies for growth, particularly in the competitive international student markets
- Teaching space transformation with greater focus on utilisation
- Operational / Business Administration services transformation and the adoption of Continuous Improvement
- Improved “Student Journeys & Student Experiences” through focus on student on-boarding, engagement, health and well-being
- Adoption of modern technologies to support and embrace new and changing learning environments
If a University can ensure that the opportunity to reinvent is preserved at the heart of its vision and strategy, then it will be in the best possible position to respond to the never-ending cycle of pressures that they face.