Looming budget cuts and growing pressure to recruit and retain more students are the biggest challenges facing education sector staff as they map out strategies for 2019, new research has found.
Asked to nominate what they considered would be their biggest challenges during the year, more than three quarters of respondents (84.31%) nominated budget cuts as being either ‘extremely’, ‘very’ or ‘moderately’ likely to top the list. Of those surveyed, 74.51% gave similar ratings to student recruitment and retention.
Other identified challenges included staff recruitment and retention, class sizes, local competition, international competition and apprenticeship reform.
The research, conducted by Tribal, was based on survey responses gathered from education sector staff across the Asia-Pacific region. Respondents were working in a variety of institutions including schools, higher-education institutions and vocational training organisations.
“The results are interesting as they clearly show how similar pressures are being faced across the education sector,” says Peter Croft, APAC Managing Director, Tribal. “They also show how consistent these pressures are over time.”
Asked to nominate what they felt had been the top challenges faced during 2018, respondents ranked budget cuts first, followed by student recruitment and retention and staff recruitment and retention. The only issue that was not again identified in 2019 was class sizes.
Improvement goals and priority areas in 2019
Survey respondents were asked to rank a series of areas in terms of how much their institution would be aiming to improve them during the coming year. They used a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 was ‘not at all’ and 5 was ‘extremely likely’. Topping the list was the student experience (with an aggregated score of 3.78) followed by data management (3.62), student retention (3.43), administration (3.4), student records (3.39) and apprenticeships (2.69).
Asked to identify their highest priority areas for 2019, respondents put teaching, learning and assessment quality at the top of the list (with an aggregated score of 4.1), followed by learner outcomes (4.1), student recruitment and retention (3.92), leadership and management effectiveness (3.68), staff recruitment and retention (3.4) and personal development, behaviour and welfare (3.4).
“This shows that the same issues are constantly top of mind for education sector staff,” says Croft. It is also clear that many staff understand the important role that effective data management has to play in reaching educational goals.”
Areas of investment
Survey respondents were also asked to rank a number of prospective spending areas on which they would focus during the year. Topping the list was IT software with an aggregated ranking of 3.48. This was followed by facilities (3.46), staff (3.37), e-learning (3.37) and IT hardware (3.18).
“Education sector staff clearly understand the significant positive impact that investments in software can have on the operation of institutions and the quality of services provided to students,” says Croft.. “This is particularly important when you consider the role that software plays in the increasingly important area of e-learning.”
A global perspective
To gain an understanding of the wider views held by staff in the Asia-Pacific education sector, the survey included a question on the global trends that have had the most impact. Respondents were asked to rank a series of trends on the same 1 to 5 scale.
Interestingly, e-learning was a clear leader (with a 3.72 aggregated score). This was followed by education ranking tables (3.07), international competition (3.04), degree apprenticeships (2.72), anti-globalism (2.67) and apprenticeship reform (2.65).
When asked whether there were any other global trends having an impact on the sector, respondents nominated artificial intelligence, a growing propensity for students to change careers frequently, and pre-university gap years.
“There are obviously many forces at work across the education sector and staff must have a clear understanding of which are going to have the most impact in their particular area and institution,” says Croft.
“There are clear challenges that arise from needing to manage budgets, attract students and deliver the best possible learning experience. However education sector staff can take some comfort from the fact that similar challenges are being faced by their colleagues across the sector and the region.”