The experiences which students seek from tertiary education are changing and with it, so too are the demands placed on universities to meet the needs of the modern student. This shift is being perpetrated not only by advances in technology and changing student expectations, but also what the workplace of the future will be.
While many of these trends have been emerging over the last five years, the pandemic has accelerated change for both students and the workplaces they will be entering. This is highlighted by research from McKinsey showing that “the pandemic has accelerated existing trends in remote work, e-commerce, and automation, with up to 25 percent more workers than previously estimated potentially needing to switch occupations”.
With a rapidly changing environment and a fundamental shift in what “work” looks like, the demands placed on universities to prepare students for the future are greater than ever. To succeed, universities can’t afford to rest on the success of their past, but rather need to adapt to meet the needs of the modern student. In this article, we analyse the top six trends shaping the student experience in 2022 and beyond.
1. Controlling the Student Recruitment Narrative
The experience a student has with a university starts before they even step foot on campus or enrol in a course. Compared to a decade ago, universities are finding it more challenging to oversee and control the path that students take when considering their enrolment options.
This shift was already in place with students increasingly looking to social channels, online groups, and reviews to shape their decision-making process. The pandemic has once again accelerated this shift, with universities having to think creatively and run student open days and orientation week virtually.
This more fractured environment creates new challenges for marketing and recruitment teams. Not only do they have to give increased consideration to meeting students in the right time and place, as well as on their preferred device, but this messaging needs improved personalisation to create a more controlled narrative and to better support students throughout their decision-making process.
2. Planning for Your University of Today, But Also Tomorrow
The modern student today is starting their tertiary education during a time where it is estimated that they will have 17 different jobs over five careers in their lifetime according to a report released by the Foundation for Young Australians. This places greater importance on universities preparing students for the ability to shape and morph their careers as new technologies and opportunities emerge.
Equally, there is a growing opportunity for universities to take advantage of the shift towards micro-credentials and short-term courses that allow an individual to pivot their career from one domain to another. Universities are best placed to take advantage of this opportunity, as they can capture the student at the start of their tertiary education and undergraduate degree, and provide ongoing value throughout their career. By doing so, they provide the initial value expected of them as an education provider, as well as a pathway for future career pivots. This allows universities to earn revenue from that student not just over the first 3 to 4 years of their career, but potentially the next 30 to 50 years.
3. Streamlining the Student Enrolment Process
One of the top business trends identified by Gartner in their 2022 Higher Education Top Business and Technology Trends report is the focus on enrolment challenges faced by students.
Similar to how students of 2022 and beyond have grown up with social media embedded as part of their everyday lives, they have different expectations when it comes to interacting with the products and services they use each day. The ability to apply, update, edit, and control the signup or enrolment process from any device and at any time is a minimum requirement. Increasingly though, there is the expectation that their experience is personalised and guided.
That needs to come with the balance of privacy and allowing the student to be in control of their data, but if there is the option to reduce the time it takes to complete enrolment, offer alternative course suggestions, or guide a student currently facing difficulty, then that process can and should be improved through personalisation.
4. Delivering on the Promise of a Hybrid Campus
For many universities, the pandemic created a situation where they quickly needed to scale existing solutions or add capacity for online courses, assessments, and exams. As the world emerges from the pandemic, now is the time for universities to revisit what were, at times, stopgap or temporary solutions.
The growth of online education has proved to be a positive for some, but not all, students. On the other side of the equation, some universities have embraced remote learning better than others. As we come to the end of the pandemic though, it's clear that the hybrid model will become the more widely adopted approach.
With a hybrid campus however, universities now need to consider how to elevate the “whole of university experience” to online channels. Universities need to go beyond offering online courses, assessments, and access to student financial information, and think strategically about what it means to go to university and what services can support a student regardless of where they are physically located. For example, this could include providing an avenue for student societies to collaborate online, providing access to industry, facilitating student mentorship programs, and extending student support services to digital channels. In essence, students of 2022 have an expectation that everything they’re able to do on campus can equally be done online.
5. Connecting With Industry & Preparing for Careers
The democratisation of education, emergence of short courses, and adoption of hybrid learning environments also open up new opportunities for increased collaboration with industry and a focus on the on-the-job skills valued by employers.
Numerous university courses and alternate education providers, such as Udacity, have already built industry partners directly into the course curriculum. This provides valuable opportunities for students to get hands-on with the tools, technology, and processes used day in, day out within the profession or industry of choice.
A hybrid work environment accelerates this potential as students are no longer tied to only accessing the industry, experts, and mentors within their geographic location. Universities can facilitate this process by providing more self-sustaining interactions with industry in unified experiences that tie the student to external stakeholders and facilitate opportunity that goes beyond the lecture room doors.
6. Delivering ‘The University For Me’
Ultimately, the underlying trend that touches on each of these initiatives, and many more, is the fundamental shift that universities need to undertake. Just like our banks, telcos, and energy providers are focused on the unique needs of their customers, universities need to increasingly focus on delivering the “university for me”.
What does this mean? It means universities increasingly need to shift to thinking about their students for what they are… individuals. Individuals with unique personal circumstances, perspectives, and requirements. The university of the future is the one that will provide students with the flexibility to study when, where, and how they want. The university of the future will support them not only with their academic journey, but also their transition into the workforce, and in time, their pivot from one career to another.
To succeed in achieving this mission, universities need to provide this flexibility and personalised experience while ensuring that it is unified and seamless to the end user. It needs to be delivered effortlessly to the student so there is no noticable difference between what they can achieve online and on campus.
Universities may look at the past two years as a period of significant challenge. However, the silver lining is that the groundwork has been laid for universities to step into the future and find new and innovative ways to deliver value and ultimately achieve their mission of academic excellence and empowerment of the future workforce and leaders of the country.
Success Story - Keeping Up With Student Needs
For many universities, it can be a challenge to keep up with student expectations and deliver relevant content when and where they need it. The University of East Anglia focused on understanding user needs and behaviour to deliver a solution that made it easier for users to find what they were looking for. Ensuring students have access to important resources at their fingertips is crucial, proving to be particularly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic.