UK universities must embrace tech to adapt in these challenging times

UK universities are facing financial ruin. First it was Brexit and a change to immigration rules threatening to stem their annual income of £9.6bn from international students, then it was COVID-19, the mass overnight closure of institutions and 339,000 students – unhappy with the quality of online teaching and learning materials – demanding their tuition fees be refunded. 
A radical three-fold rethink, driven by technology, is required for the UK’s educational institutions to stay afloat in today’s climate: they need to review the online success and progress of their international counterparts, they need to invest in cloud-based technology, and they need to retrain their workforce so they are well positioned to meet the expectations of today’s students in terms of online delivery models.
Review the online learning models of your international counterparts
A very different breed of universities exist in the United States – a significant, well-established and highly profitable network of private universities each with a successful track record in the delivery of quality assured online degrees, teaching and learning. 
The first fully online programmes were founded in 1998 at New York University Online, Western Governor’s University, the California Virtual University and Trident University International.  Today approximately seven million students in the US are enrolled on distance learning and online degree courses.

Dr. Nicos Nicolaou, CEO of UNICAF

Online Higher Education (HE) in the developing world also stands streets ahead of the UK.  In Africa – the world’s fastest-growing economy – low cost online degrees from accredited UK and US universities have been available to students and African professionals since 2012 – all made possible by the arrival of cloud-based HE platforms and 4G broadband cellular connectivity. 
Unlike the UK, whose on-ground education system benefited greatly from the country’s landline infrastructure, Africa skipped a technological generation to embrace 4G and mobile comms.  Overnight, African students and professionals were presented with the opportunity to gain an accredited qualification sought after by employers and to fast track themselves into a well-paid job.
We can learn so much from these two very different models.
Invest in cloud technology
The benefits of digital platforms and cloud technology are well documented – students can save on expensive textbooks, learning materials are automatically kept up-to-date and there is no need for expensive hardware or software. HE institutions can reach a diverse range of students and it’s easy to access.
UK universities must consider embracing platforms which have a proven ability to digitise content and take programmes online within a short period of time. 
Hire specialists
Lecturers are there to undertake teaching, research and administrative duties within a specialist subject area so it makes commercial sense to leave them to do what they do best and to appoint an instructional design team and technical staff who are well positioned to meet the demands and expectations of your student cohort – typically characterised as liberal, highly tech-savvy, self-expressive, confident, and open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. 
Instructional designers identify the performance, skills, knowledge, information and attitude gaps of a targeted audience and create selected learning experiences that close this gap, based on instructional theory and best practices within the field.
Many US universities are offering a wide range of online courses, from medicine to engineering. A variety of technologies are harnessed to create interactive and engaging digitised material for students.  Most universities offer fully online options and in some cases due to the nature of the programme offer synchronous options as well. 
It’s a simple process, but one that requires investment, know-how and well-considered support. It’s there for the taking.

Dr. Nicos Nicolaou



Back to top