Higher education: Tell it like it is

Higher education: Tell it like it is

By Paul Hoskins, chairman and founder at Precedent.

Universities have really raised their game over the last 20 years and learnt to compete with varying degrees of success. The majority now have slick marketing and recruitment operations that manage the delivery of an unwaveringly positive message. They focus on whatever table, survey, award, course or endorsement puts the institution in the best light.

This is important, if not essential, from a marketing perspective as meeting targets increasingly requires that the university sells to prospective students, rather than simply informing them. However the 'everything is fine' message becomes problematic when one considers how this affects the perception of the future of the university amongst its staff. My recent research with VCs and executive management teams from over 40 HEIs throughout the USA, UK and Australia has highlighted the prevalence of this.

Higher Education is in the early stages of the most far-reaching changes in its history. The whole sector will transform and many ‘givens’ such as campuses, conventional classes and even degrees themselves, will come into question. Digital is moving beyond being simply a communications and efficiency tool, with research showing AI and machine learning tools are finally having an effect on improved learning outcomes. This combined with increasing student expectations of support and administration functions means processes, jobs and structures will inevitably change.

When repeatedly told that ‘Everything is fine’, it’s difficult for those immersed in the institution to view these changes for what they really are – critical steps in the evolution of the sector.

There’s no need to be overly worried about these forthcoming changes – indeed, they offer a wealth of opportunity for universities, staff and students alike – but there are barriers that must be overcome first. A workforce resistant to change proves time and again to be the biggest obstacle to achieving successful transformation.

More balanced internal communication, coupled with a touch of realism regarding what must be done will go a long way in ensuring that universities can deliver the hiring, training and change management required to keep pace with the future.

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