Universities That Seize Digital Opportunities Will Shape the Future Of Higher Education The question is not if but how
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When we first started taking our virtual student engagement tools to universities in early 2020, many of them believed they were looking at a supplementary measure at best. And understandably so, engaging and recruiting students has always been a major area of focus for universities, with many having invested in building illustrious academic reputations, campuses and research capabilities that have successfully drawn students to them for years, without the need for digital channels.
But as it became clearer that the obstacles of the pandemic were more than interim, mindsets began to change. Many universities who came to us with relatively short-term obstacles (like international travel coming to a standstill), were now focusing on the long-term opportunities that the adoption of technology could bring. Edtech went from being expendable, or a competitor in some cases, to an essential ally.
With this shift, it's no surprise that the global education technology market was valued at a whopping $89.49 billion in 2020, with research expecting the surge in edtech spending to re-calibrate to a longer-term integration of digital technologies in the industry. The inevitability of this integration has opened doors of opportunity for universities, who now have more options than ever to shape it to their advantage.
Staying ahead of a rapidly evolving landscape
The crucial question is not if but how universities will choose to do this. From the speed of their adoption, to the partners and tools they choose to enlist — the moves they make today will likely define their role in the future of higher education.
Despite being predominantly offline-based before the pandemic, most universities have powered through the first barrier of entry by leveraging more digital solutions in the last year. But keeping pace with the current rate of change has required universities to go further and stay ahead of moving factors, a large part of which is continuously finding digital yet meaningful ways to engage with prospective students.
Adding to this, the indefinite nature of the pandemic has not only accelerated but complicated the path to digital evolution. For example, while many universities have started to focus on digital tools, their investments need to continue adding value when face-to-face engagement eventually returns. A reactive approach to technology adoption may omit such long-term implications.
Through our work, we have discovered that when it comes to digital technologies, the best approach for universities is a proactive one.
Here are some examples of this:
Embracing virtual engagement — The pandemic has presented a unique opportunity for universities to reimagine how they prospect, engage with and enroll prospective students. Embracing platforms like virtual university fairs are great examples of this, because they not only bridge the current gaps of distance and travel restrictions, but also create channels for universities to broaden their reach far into the future. The greatest advantage of digital technology is the inclusivity it brings, which means the more digital channels a university employs, the more likely it is to engage with or reach previously untapped segments.
Creating data-led processes — The unprecedented insights that data can offer are game-changers when it comes to being student-centric. They can help universities understand the kind of information their target demographic is looking for, and how to ensure it's not only reaching but engaging them. This means that universities can use data to create more efficient and streamlined processes, alongside being able to map trends, predict outcomes, and make more informed and proactive decisions.
Offering an evolved value proposition — Apart from digital technologies, universities will also benefit from adopting a mindset that is tuned-in to the rapidly changing needs and preferences of prospective students. For example, students today want to know about institutional investments in and commitments to safety, well-being, inclusion, social justice and environmental protection. Universities that make genuine and long-term commitments to supporting these core generational values will be best positioned to benefit from their digital channels and organically engage prospective students. Additionally, with the pandemic, traditional draws like campuses or geographic locations are also off the table, accelerating the need for universities to re-invent their value proposition.
Seize the day and shape the future
While the importance of adopting digital technology has never been as prominent as it is today, many universities are yet to fully embrace the capabilities it offers. Research shows that global spend on education is expected to cross $7 trillion by 2025, but less than 4% of that is now allocated towards technology. These are surprising statistics, given the omnipresence of technology in our lives.
The silver lining of these findings is the implication that there is still time for universities to get on board and pioneer the digital wave. A proactive approach will be key to executing this successfully, alongside choosing the right Edtech partners, allocating more resources to digital strategies, and prioritising being an early mover in the space. Like the dawn of any new era, it's the early movers that will raise the bar and gain an edge in the ultra-competitive student recruiting landscape.