Universities have traditionally provided an environment where job creation, developing skills, and cultivating informed citizens are core concerns, along with the need to create a workforce with the professional, technical, and managerial skills necessary for a functioning society.
Through this vein, the typical tenure, and therefore the lifetime value of a student, has been closely aligned to the duration of the degree. More specifically, this would be three to four years for an undergraduate and an additional one to three years for those who continue with postgraduate studies on a full-time study load.
However, the changing nature of work and the disruption caused by other external factors, such as digital transformation and the COVID-19 pandemic, are opening up new opportunities for universities to expand their horizon and think longer-term about the relationship they can cultivate with the students. By extension, this allows universities to view the lifetime value of their relationship with an individual not as a three- to five-year proposition, but rather one that can last 30 to 50 years.
To take advantage of this new dynamic, universities would be well placed to invest in their ongoing digital transformation. This transformation shouldn't only be limited to increasing investment in online learning, digital channels, and the number of short courses provided, but should also extend to platforms to retain and engage alumni, a steady source of candidates looking to partake in new learning opportunities.
The Changing Nature of Work
According to a survey reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, it's likely that a young Australian will experience "a portfolio career, potentially having 17 different jobs over five careers in their lifetime". This provides the necessary foundation for this new paradigm to take place. With this shift, universities would benefit from thinking differently about their relationship with a student and capturing them at multiple points throughout their career.
Looking at the current status quo, universities have captured students directly, or shortly after, they have completed their high school studies. Students commit to a three- or four-year degree, often in a specific field, and look to enter the workforce upon completion of that degree. A select few do of course continue with post-graduate studies or return as a mature age student at a later date.
While these university-educated graduates hopefully land a career that provides them with long-term fulfilment, the trend points to a different reality. According to the recent Gartner Global Talent Monitor survey referenced in The Australian Financial Review, 24% of Australian employees are actively seeking other employment, often in new roles or industries. While there are undoubtedly transferable skills from any degree, there is an opportunity for universities to capture this market. Imagine a world where instead of educating a student at the start of their career, a university was positioned to engage them every 5 to 10 years when that individual looks to upskill, reskill, or switch careers. This is a new way of thinking for many universities, but one that can provide a lucrative stream of new revenue.
The Increasing Importance of Short Courses & Digital Incumbents
The changing dynamics of the nature of work and what a career means are dovetailed with the technological transformation that makes it easier than ever for students to study what they want, where they want, and in a format that suits them and their lives. It should therefore come as no surprise that almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of survey respondents believe upskilling in the next three to five years is key to keeping pace with changes in their profession and remaining employable.
This change has been taking place for many years but looking across the university landscape, it is clear that many institutions failed to grasp the potential of this growing market - that is, until the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. With this delayed response, non-traditional providers, such as online platforms and private institutes, have stolen a march on their more traditional rivals. Fortunately, the value proposition of these providers is focused on flexibility, online delivery, and the sharing of actionable, real-world skills through coursework and projects, attributes that can easily be replicated.
In fact, universities should see the natural advantage they have over non-traditional providers. If they get the course structure and delivery right, the value of their brand and having a certificate issued by a recognised university creates a more compelling value proposition for the student looking to reskill or change careers.
Retaining Student Relationships Long Term
Another advantage universities have over their digitally native competitors is the large alumni body that they can draw from and market to on a regular basis.
Much like the delivery of short courses requires a shift in mindset, so too does a university’s approach to their alumni network. If a university is successful in keeping that body of students engaged with their institute, they increase the probability of capturing them as returning students at the various points of their career when they look to reskill, retrain, or adapt their career.
To succeed in these areas, universities can invest in maintaining closer relationships with their alumni network. This needs to go beyond hosting regular alumni events and instead look at areas where the university has a natural advantage to provide value. Examples include providing an alumni portal that facilitates deeper relationships and connections between past students of the institute, thus increasing the value of maintaining engagement. To extend on this further, a modern alumni portal may allow for the advertising of jobs by alumni-led companies or facilitate opportunities for alumni to act as mentors to new students.
Universities that acknowledge the changing dynamics of the workplace, as well as the economic and social constructs of our society, can take advantage of the opportunity presented by this new way of thinking. In doing so, they can adhere to their broader objective of educating future generations - not only at the entry point of their career but at multiple times throughout their lives. The impact of digital transformation makes achieving this outcome a reality that universities are able to achieve today.
Success Story - Thinking Beyond Your Current Use Case
See how the University of East Anglia approached the overhaul of their self-service portal. With a heavy focus on building solutions that were applicable beyond their current use case, they were able to quickly adapt and provide additional value to staff and students. Ensuring users had a clear place to find the information they needed was a key priority, contributing to widespread adoption of their self-service portal.