The role of digital disruption in higher education


Digital transformation is taking place across all industries, and it is changing business models. Having remained free of large-scale change for more than a century, Australian universities are experiencing digital disruption that would transform the sector and signal a change to the traditional university model.

With students’ expectations driving the digital push, higher education institutions need to address the challenges and resistance to embrace digital or risk being left behind.

The challenge 

To embrace digital, institutions  not only face challenges with outdated technology and processes but can also face resistance from internal cultures that obstruct the development of new technology and from staff who lack trust in digital services. Inflexible policies, cultural issues and inexperience working with digital tools can delay, or in some instances, prevent new digital initiatives.

A Gartner survey found that higher education CIOs recognise that enrolment and attracting the best talent through student success is required to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive environment. Overall, they are failing to show innovation through the adoption of technology needed to stand apart; yet, the majority of respondents (59%) still believe that there will be significant business model change due to digital transformation. There is an understanding that digital will ultimately change the university model, but adoption of the technologies needed for improvement is slow.

 Student behaviour driving digital 

With increased competition and changing student behaviour, there has been an increase in accountability on higher education providers. This shift has been fundamentally driven by consumers of higher education, who believe that their student experience should mirror the rest of their lives. Students want to learn in a way that makes sense to them, which means leveraging digital tools that seamlessly integrate with their learning experience.

Research by Tribal Group revealed the gap between students’ preferred means of communication with institutions. Seven in ten higher education students prefer one single app covering all areas of their college or university life. However, only 6% of education providers are using a dedicated mobile application and able to communicate with their students the way their students would be most receptive to.

As universities are run more as a business, the consumer has become more powerful and student expectations have moved beyond pure academic learning. Students bring their own digital world expectations to university, and institutions need to evolve to meet these expectations.

Embrace change 

Universities need to demonstrate that they can provide the digital experience that students expect in every element of their lives. In today’s digital age where the voice of the customer is more prevalent than ever, turning students into advocates for your university is one of the most powerful marketing tools available.

Digital transformation requires a clear vision and strategy accepted by all departments across an institution; this is the only way university can achieve the levels of innovation and cultural change required to become digital.

Transitioning to digital can be intimidating but by embracing this disruption, universities are not only creating new opportunities to engage with students, academics and staff; they are setting themselves apart from the competition by having modern-learning facilities.

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