There is no question that universities are becoming increasingly accessible to a more diverse group of learners, and I believe technology has played a crucial role in driving this change. However, there’s still more that could be done to help disadvantaged university students thrive once they start their course, and even more importantly support that could be put in place to help them to forge a successful career after they graduate.
Delivering choice and support
Digital technologies allow teaching staff to make learning more engaging and interactive. They also offer the possibility to tailor teaching to an individual’s needs.
The accessibility technology offers has also facilitated the rapid development of flexible learning and online courses which are transforming study and career opportunities for people with disabilities, people from some ethnic groups, those with family, caring or work commitments – and those who just don’t fancy campus life.
Technology is even making it possible for universities and colleges to gather and analyse data so that teachers and pastoral care staff can identify and support students who are struggling. Many universities and colleges are not just using this data and information to support students, but to transform the wider student experience. They understand what students want and are able to make changes to meet their needs.
On another note evidence suggests that students achieve better when they take an active part in the community life of their university or college. A round table discussion between university senior managers and academics at The Guardian last October heard that students from a ‘broader’ background need more support than most.
It’s no surprise, then, that Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) is one of a growing number of UK universities to use platforms such as campusM to provide personalised information about university services, courses, group activities and leisure opportunities direct to students’ devices. Platforms and apps such as this one help to boost student engagement and create a sense of belonging that can last throughout their university careers and even beyond graduation for as long as alumni want it.
You may or may not know that only 36% of millennials in the world’s mature markets believe they’ll be financially better off than their parents, according to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017 (and even fewer think they’ll be happier). To me digital technology has a potential role in shaping the next stage of the student journey and could allow students and providers to open up untapped opportunities when it comes to future employability.
For example, in today’s competitive employment environment students need every advantage they can get to get a job once they qualify, and on the job experience is key. At Jisc, we’re working with Unite Students and the National Centre for Universities & Business (NCUB) to develop the Placer work experience app. It uses technology to potentially deliver many more work experience opportunities, in a variety of guises, than students have ever had before.
It will enable students to discover what’s needed of them in the world of work and to develop additional skills like team-working and communication so that they are ready for what the workplace throws at them. It will expose students to opportunities they might not have thought about and employers to candidates (and abilities) that they might not have considered.
As political and economic uncertainty seem to be with us for the foreseeable future, evidence keeps stacking up to suggest that every student needs help with employability now more than ever. I think Placer will add real value as universities sharpen their focus on the employability agenda.
We’ve all heard that experience is the best teacher. This is certainly true when it comes to developing our students’ employability skills – let’s harness the technology to make positive changes for future generations.
Paul Feldman, chief executive, Jisc