It’s time to transform higher education

Students and labour market needs have changed, and the mode of operation in the business world has changed. Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) need to change accordingly. Technology offers unprecedented opportunities to reimagine purpose, operational models and service quality. It is time for a transformation in higher education.

A new mindset for higher education

Student expectations have changed. Digitally savvy, more connected than ever before – they seek personalisation, digital channels, customisation, and relevant learning outcomes to career prospects. 

COVID-19 has accelerated the switch to digital, in line with student preferences. But outdated lecturing styles have been implemented in the digital space. Delivering 20th century content and methodology within a 21st century digital space won’t lead to 21st century learning outcomes. 

The skills needed in the labour market are also shifting. Students need to be prepared to fill the skills gaps throughout their careers. Employees’ skill sets are the key to organisational growth, and our CEO survey shows that upskilling staff and attracting skilled future employees is a constant challenge for CEOs. This is further impacted by the rise of automation and AI. 

The higher education market has changed, and a new mindset is needed.

Education Transformation Framework

HEIs need to adapt to the changing environment. The Education Transformation Framework of Microsoft has been applied to higher education in CEE by PwC Hungary and Microsoft Hungary. It provides a tangible vision of a smart university and a useful tool to help HEIs design their digital transformation in a holistic way. 

What are the benefits?

In the short term, taking these steps will protect and expand revenues and help optimise costs. In the long term, it is important for HEIs to build smart, safe and agile operations that address student needs and allow them to succeed in the labour market. 

The framework provides practical suggestions based on the four key pillars of higher education: 

  • Student success, 
  • teaching & learning, 
  • academic research and 
  • secure & connected campus.

5 steps in interactive format:

Focus on students - conscious shaping of the student journey

Students are at the heart of higher education. The primary responsibility of HEIs is to support students in reaching their potential and becoming lifelong learners in a volatile, uncertain and complex world. They should therefore be the primary consideration in the transformation process. 

Put yourself in your students’ shoes. What does your university look and feel like from their perspective? 

To reimagine the student journey and create a personalised digital journey, you need to understand what your students want and need, and what the factors to their success are. 

By redesigning and aligning your services in a personalised way and thus creating a digital student journey, you could see:

  • Increased student engagement 
  • Higher student satisfaction
  • Improved learning outcomes
  • New insights for further development 

Attract, retain and support excellent academic staff

The teaching and research excellence of the academic staff “make or break” a higher education institution. 

It’s important for higher education institutions to provide an integrated, personalised and supportive digital academic journey for their academic staff. Academics who feel supported through professional development opportunities and institutional services are more often better motivated to build a culture that empowers students to reach their full potential. Therefore, a digitally supported academic journey should be set up.

By fostering an attractive career for your academic staff, you could see:

  • More engaged academic staff
  • Increased staff satisfaction 
  • Academic staff more motivated to support students 
  • Increased interest in academic careers

Reimagine the way universities support student learning

The transformation of teaching methodology is crucial for higher education institutions to keep up with today’s rapidly changing environment.  

Reimagined teaching and learning should be

  • relevant for real life, even in an unpredictable future, 
  • experience based and inspiring
  • Personalised, matching individual needs and 
  • collaborative. 

21st century learning should prepare students with the skills that employers are seeking: problem-solving, critical thinking, cooperation, innovation, social-emotional intelligence and digital literacy. By acquiring these competencies, students can become successful employees even after forty years.

Cooperative project based programmes supported by “molecular” adaptive online learning can help improve student learning outcomes especially in the fields that employers seek.

How can education stay future-proof?

Lead and foster research, innovation and development in your institution

Research leads to discoveries, and innovation leads to new solutions. New discoveries for teaching and learning can foster academic excellence in higher education institutions. 

Today, exponential technological development forces institutions to digitally upskill researchers, to use and invent digital research methodologies in all fields, and to proactively steer and monitor research, development and innovation activities in strategic areas. 

To boost research development and innovation, institutions can:

  • Provide digital upskilling to researchers 
  • Incentivise and motivate research in areas corresponding with a strategy to use resources efficiently 
  • Provide secure, adequate, flexible and scalable cloud-based IT infrastructure along with project management support to research projects
  • Set clear research, development and innovation evaluation criteria, and monitor activity 
  • Communicate research results in a targeted and customised way to different stakeholders 
  • Provide a collaborative platform for researchers and partners 
  • Incentivise interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research projects

Be service oriented and agile in operations

Institutions don’t need digital strategies. They need a strategy that contains continuous digital transformation. 

To meet the needs of students and academic staff, HEIs need to provide quality services in flexible environments. This requires engaging the whole institution to understand their operational and infrastructure needs and create a vision that fits the future. 

Some ways to create the roadmap: 

  • Simplify, standardise and automate administrative processes and provide them as a service for students and staff
  • Set clear and understandable expectations
  • Plan data needs for efficient and effective institutional management
  • Provide insights to further increase efficiency, effectiveness, agility and quality based on data and analysis 
  • Create a flexible and secure IT infrastructure that meets the needs of your institutional strategy
  • Rethink the possibilities of physical spaces; make them sustainable, yet more adapted to collaborative ways of working 

The role of higher education is to prepare students for a future that is digital, unpredictable and abundant in sustainability challenges. Therefore, it is necessary to prepare today's students to become responsible, cooperative and proactive intellectuals equipped with emotional intelligence, complex problem solving and critical thinking skills. To achieve this in an experiential way, a profound transformation of higher education institutions is needed.

The presented framework aims to support institutional transformation, inspire and define practical steps for the process. Let’s build the future of higher education together!

Contact us

Szabolcs Mezei

Szabolcs Mezei

Partner, PwC Hungary

Csilla Stéger

Csilla Stéger

Senior Manager, PwC Hungary

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