It’s no secret that the education sector is experiencing a period of radical change. In September 2019, more than half of young people went to university for the first time ever, while, back in 2014, the government lifted the cap on maximum student number figures.
Students are to universities what shoppers are to retailers - customers. And with more of them than ever before, universities are now competing for the best and the brightest, to essentially market new audiences to their brand.
Student satisfaction is still one of the key ways to attract more applicants. Similarly to shoppers - people read reviews by their peers, and without this feedback, institutions may stumble.
There are many different ways that universities are vying for improved student happiness, but advanced digital technologies and ways of working is clearly one of them. With tech, universities can attract audiences that may otherwise have not been able to get to class - such as those working in full-time jobs, and physically impaired learners.
A recent report also highlighted that an institution's ability to boost career opportunities plays a huge factor when students are choosing where to study. And, as job roles start to evolve and the demand for advanced technical skills such as data science and AI increases, it’s crucial that universities can respond if they want to continue to attract students - and keep them happy.
In a world governed by technology, it’s not difficult to imagine how digital improvements are making a huge impact on student satisfaction.
The UK universities embracing technology
Which UK universities are best meeting students’ digital needs?
Studentcrowd, the UK’s leading online review community for students, benefits from the opinions of over 750,000 students each year and has conducted a survey detailing the universities which best meet students’ digital needs.
Number one on that list was Durham University, which came out on top after receiving the most positive comments for its Wi-Fi offerings. A review left by a recent graduate stated that they appreciated how ‘fast/reliable’ the network was, while the university as a whole received an average score of 4.5 out of 5 for on-campus WiFi. It’s interesting to note, however, that in the Complete University Guide, Durham only ranks sixth. This places them behind University of Cambridge, which took the top spot but comes in 34th place overall for student satisfaction.
Similarly, Loughborough University, which has invested £3 million into upgrading its networks, was rated overall the best university this year, and featured fourth on the list in terms of WiFi - highlighting a strong correlation between the two. Students also noted that there was even network access on the university shuttle buses. Other institutions who ranked highly in the WiFi study included Lancaster University, Harper Adams and the University of Sheffield.
Institutions need to develop digital environments which meet students’ expectations and help them to progress to higher study and employment
The Jisc Digital Student Experience report, which spoke to staff and students at University of Winchester, discovered that developing students who can learn and thrive in a digital society is crucial in today’s landscape. Key findings reported that, for a university to appear ‘good’, it needs to provide free WiFi everywhere, encourage digitally capable students, and virtual classrooms
Students were also asked what it looks like when an institution falls short of responding to the changing digital needs and expectations. Answers included saying that teaching staff were seen as out of touch, the universities themselves irrelevant, and that students began to question the value of their courses in relation to reputation and skills development.
What do students want?
The Jisc report found that, according to students, good looks like:
- Free WiFi everywhere
- All teachers being digitally capable
- Student experience being well aligned with what is needed in the workplace
- Virtual classrooms
- Course-specific apps
- Tech-enhanced learning
When asked what they don’t want:
- Students not being involved in digital decisions about their environment
- Having to question the value of their courses
- Staff being regarded as out of touch
- Universities being seen as elitist
But, this means institutions will need to be extra security-savvy. With tech advancements meaning that security attacks are more common than ever, only 43 per cent of the students surveyed said they felt their university helped them to stay safe online. This is proof that, to maintain student satisfaction, greater investments in safer, more advanced security systems need to be made, and quickly.
Only 42 per cent of those in Higher Education feel that their courses prepare them for the digital workplace.
Another digital experience insights survey of 29,531 students at 50 institutions, found that six in ten students agreed that they enjoy learning more and understand things better when digital approaches were used, however only 37 per cent agreed that they have regular opportunities to update their digital skills. With so many students now using multiple devices to view course slides and notes, or even recording lectures, the importance of up-to-date technology and processes can’t be ignored.
Not only does the accessibility of online tools, databases and technologies enhance the student experience, but it also allows students to access a huge range of resources that can help them to succeed, both on their courses and throughout their future careers.
By looking at the leaderboards and surveys, it seems there is no official link between student satisfaction and digital accessibility. But when you drill down into the reviews, surveys and feedback which are not included in these leaderboards, it’s clear that digital is non-negotiable, and does affect student satisfaction.
In today’s digital age, where technology can make or break student experience, it’s no surprise that universities across the UK are working tirelessly to ensure that they’re keeping up. In fact, those universities that don’t offer cutting-edge technology are actually putting themselves at risk of losing future students.
However, while these initiatives are enabling students to focus more on learning and connecting, in order to contribute towards better student satisfaction for the future, more needs to be done. To fully solve industry challenges there needs to be an entire campus-wide approach, with the whole sector on-board to implement any digital changes.
Will Evans, Director, Performance Networks