Care and Connectivity Must Rule UK Campuses

WiFi: Why a connection shared can be a problem halved.

In its 2020 strategy, The University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) outlined, unsurprisingly, that “digital advances are changing the ways students want to explore their options and engage with universities and colleges”.

But 2020, as we all know, has turned many strategies on their heads and for the education sector it’s now the universities and colleges who have had to change the way they engage with their students. But, institutions could, and will, use crisis situations to sharpen strategies as thoughts are already turning to the outbreak’s longer-term implications for beyond the 2020-21 academic year.

The lesson here is that it’s now not the most technologically advanced colleges or campuses that will outrun the competition, it will be the most caring – and it’s time we stopped treating those two things separately.

Rewind only 10 years and lectures up and down the country were being delivered via PowerPoint – or something like it – to students avidly taking notes in good old fashioned notebooks. While over in the halls of residence, students were connecting one laptop to a LAN cable – things have changed fast, so yes, the need for fast, secure and reliable WiFi within the education environment is unprecedented. But what’s the real cost?

Futureproofing campuses by installing hyper-fast Internet connectivity will only take success so far. Yes, it means course content can be delivered – from anywhere – via Teams, yes it means student support or bursary allowances can be processed quickly, and yes, it does mean greater collaboration between faculty staff, students, support, and administrative departments. But what good is this when there is still potential to fail students?

University life is one of the biggest transitions our young adults are going to make. The distance from home, the sudden fending for one’s self, the shift from being financially dependent to financially responsible can in some cases be too heavy a pressure on someone not yet 20. So care – as well as connectivity – must be rule of thumb. And if we start with the latter, the former will follow.

Gone are the days of the one student, one laptop trend. This generation is coming from homes where they’ve had the luxury of private networks allowing unlimited streaming of multiple devices without lag or falter. These students want an always-on, home-from-home experience the second they unlock their dorms. Give them that, and you’re getting them off to the best start. You’re providing access to course materials, social media, Skype for ringing home, campus intranet and all on-site support services from student unions to accommodations services and financial aid.

Beyond that, you’re developing infrastructure with care at its core. Once in place, there are myriad ways of enhancing that network so that it can start interpreting data; start noticing patterns between dwindling attendance to concentrated location hotspots to help identify students – at any point in their further or higher education career – who may not otherwise be speaking up and may otherwise fall under the radar…

So you see networks really are important. Digitally transform one with tech, and you develop another with care.

Richard Beeston is Product Director at Daisy Corporate Services.

This article was originally published in Public Sector Focus March/April 2020

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