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Improving university experiences with cloud technology

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Blackboard)

The pandemic has impacted almost all sectors and industries, and the education sector is no exception to this. For many students, university is often an exciting chapter of their life as it’s typically the first time they’re living away from home, becoming more independent and meeting new people. Then came the pandemic and tables were turned, forcing students to socially distance on campus and universities to move learning online. It’s not surprising then, that with these abrupt changes, more than 80 percent of students reported that the pandemic impacted their education in a negative way, according to student support service, Studiosity and Red Brick Research. 

It can be costly for both students and universities when students drop out. Research has previously found that UK universities are losing around £3 million per year in total, due to student turnover, with 6.8 percent leaving in the first year. Even before the pandemic, it was found that the first 50 days of term or the period after the Christmas break, was when universities would see the highest student rate – i.e., the number of students dropping out. 

Because of the pandemic, the number of students dropping out is likely to have increased even more as in-person contact hours have been reduced and socially distanced rules have become the norm. Studiosity and Red Brick Research reported that as many as 40 percent of students seriously considered dropping out of university during the pandemic – meaning universities could be losing more than £3 million.  

So, what can university institutions do to overcome this issue and decrease student churn rate? Even as we come out of the pandemic, what can institutions do to improve the student experience and keep students engaged?

Adapting to change 

Being agile and able to adapt to change has been key for universities to face the challenges and changes that the pandemic has presented. Technology, and more importantly the cloud, has played a crucial role in supporting this agility too. 

Adopting cloud-based infrastructure and tools has enabled universities to keep up with student requirements and respond to an unpredictable pandemic or political changes. It has also enabled universities to support blended learning, making education accessible to more students as they can access resources remotely. 

By meeting the needs of students, the student experience can be improved from the very start when they join. Universities should consider setting up an app for students to download before they arrive, where students could access their social calendars, campus maps and instructions for their first day. This app could help them navigate around campus and remind them of their timetables. Signposting where the student needs to be at the right time will help them feel more at ease and settled into university life. 

There are multiple advantages of setting up an app for students. It means that students can have the information they need all in one place. Universities can also provide a student checklist in the app so students can make sure they have completed all the registration activities without worrying about missing a step. 

It’s not just the students who benefit from the use of cloud technology – universities do too. Universities can reduce operational costs. Adopting cloud-based systems can help universities automate certain tasks, meaning staff can focus on innovating and transforming the education system. This would give staff more time and availability to meet their student’s needs and improve the student experience.

Setting up a student app using the cloud helps universities reduce the need for physical signage too. Rather than spending budget on physical signs, the app can act as a reminder and map for students, indicating where students need to go and at what time.

A win-win situation

In addition to the cost-savings that cloud technology offers, various university departments can benefit too. For example, librarians can make better decisions when it comes to capacity planning, which in turn will help students find the best places to work and locate available study areas. Better visibility into capacity will also help students socially distance. Students can also find the educational resources they need more efficiently, and reduce the time spent looking through large collections.

Similarly, facility managers can also manage capacity and assets more easily using smart building technology. They can improve security and address any problems while maintaining social distance with students and staff. For example, if they notice students taking an alternative route between two locations because of an obstruction, such as a broken light, facility managers can identify this quickly and solve the issue. This in turn, will make students feel they are being looked after on campus. 

The IT department can benefit from the use of cloud technology too. Network managers can benefit from the improved visibility and agility of the network and using data analytics to make better-informed decisions when managing the network. They can use these insights to decide which areas of the campus would need the most support. IT directors and leaders too, can leverage the data analytics to form long-term IT strategies to help improve the experience for both staff and students. Using analytics gathered from these cloud-based systems, there can be greater cohesion and collaboration across the IT department. 

Making university the ‘best time of their lives’  

Today, universities need to make sure they have the infrastructure and technology that will enable them to adapt to change. Even as we emerge out of the pandemic now, universities will need to be prepared for the changes that will accompany the transition. With students hoping to return to campus in the coming year, universities must always have the students in mind, making sure they feel supported and engaged at all touchpoints of their student journey. 

Investing in the right tools will help improve student engagement, and the student’s university experience can be improved. When students have a more positive experience, they will be less likely to drop out and retention rates can be improved. This means, universities can avoid paying hefty operational costs associated with student drop-out, avoid facing reputational damage and minimize revenue loss. As we come out of the pandemic now, students can still have a memorable and exciting time of their lives.

Fraser Sutherland, Head of Government & Education, Maintel

Fraser Sutherland, Head of Government & Education, Maintel.