IT & Digital leaders from across teaching, private and research intensive Universities gathered in the shadow of St Paul’s to discuss a wide range of themes including digital, data, change and people management plus the role for analytics.
A lively, positive debate ensued where much common ground and shared experience was found, this was also furthered by the unique collegiate spirit which exists in H.E.
Whilst individual approaches differed, most agreed that a key resource, which contemporary IT Directors need to harness in change averse HE organisations, is ‘the voice of the customer’. Overcoming some of the inertia which exists in Universities is inherently difficult, but students today are demanding change and want to consume education in completely different ways than their predecessors. IT Directors need to accurately capture, characterise and articulate this customer demand (as industry does) and use it as a catalyst to stimulate change.
Whilst many of the IT Directors present were well respected, senior leaders in their organisations few sat on the board as yet. As a consequence many had found it politic to find a respected Academic or even Vice Chancellor to act as ‘champion’ in adopting the digital agenda. Combining the use of the senior ‘digital advocates’ with a concerted campaign to increase digital literacy amongst the academic community was also seen as key.
The combined effect of tuition fees, Brexit and economic uncertainty was acknowledged as having brought additional pressure on student numbers. Many of the organisations represented acknowledged that the amount of clearing work undertaken this year had increased exponentially. It was also questioned whether UK Universities have properly identified their niche and brand propositions as yet. There was a recognition that the harsh realities of a market economy will impinge on academic freedom in some way. It was felt that was better led by the Universities taking action to better shape their own offerings, than by macro-economic factors meaning an institution spectacularly fail.