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4 Ways Universities Can Reimagine Higher Education

By November 1, 2021

Across the world, COVID-19 continues to highlight the need for digital transformation in higher education. In Australia and New Zealand, our education business has been busy listening to various perspectives on how student-centred innovation, digital-first strategies, and technology are enabling industry transformation in the region.

As an indication of the pace and scale of innovation in the industry, Colette Rogers, who leads Deloitte Australia’s education practice, says there are currently about 600 Australian educational technology (edtech) organisations, second in number only to the financial technology (fintech) sector. This vibrant edtech sector is expected to continue its rapid growth, and there’s an opportunity for institutions to think about student experiences in a different way.

Student learning remotely from home
The emergence of hybrid learning is the model clearly preferred by Australian learners, according to the Connected Student Report.

Students Want Hybrid Learning Options. Is Your Institution Responding?

Hybrid learning is the model clearly preferred by Australian learners. In the Connected Student Report by, which surveyed 2,204 staff and students across 10 countries, 52% of Australian students prefer hybrid classes over in-person or online only options. In fact, twice as many students prefer hybrid to other learning approaches.

Interestingly, students expect only 24% of their courses to be delivered this way, suggesting we can expect a lot more innovation in this space in the coming years as institutions respond to student preferences.

Anchor Innovation Around Students and Cross-Industry Learnings

The top business priorities for Australian higher ed leaders centres around technology investments to improve operational effectiveness, create a data-driven institution, and digitise workflows and processes. At the Higher Education Executive Roundtable in July, leaders drew inspiration from other industries for data-driven, integrated, and holistic innovations, adopting a “customer mindset” as they redesign for student-centric operations.

For example, leaders learned from theme park operators in how they develop unique customer experiences that blend optimum use of physical assets with technology, or from the banking industry in adapting to regulatory and technological change, or from global technology leaders like Amazon or Spotify in leveraging disruptive digital platforms to service a global audience.

Modernise Research Management While Accelerating Commercialisation

Game-changing transformation is required to modernise the business of research. Currently, research grants do not cover the full cost of research. The gap in funding is about 34%, and has been covered by university operating revenues, which until recently has benefited from substantial international student fees.

Robust discussions are already taking place between government and universities on what the research funding solution should look like. In the meantime, it is imperative now for university research offices, which were already diversifying their income sources and increasing their industry engagements prior to the pandemic, to not only continue with these existing initiatives, but also dramatically uplift operational efficiencies to cut costs.

The business of research needs to be brought up to par with all other industries undergoing digital transformation, using contemporary business technologies to optimise processes, simplify administrative tasks, and enable efficient collaboration and work anywhere. This way, researchers can then focus on their core research, as well as build much needed capabilities in translation and commercialisation activities.

Lifelong Learning Can Bolster New Business Models

Lifelong learning is an opportunity to reinvent the business of higher education. A key part of this reinvention is a rethinking of who the target audience of a university actually is, and then when, where, and how it engages with that audience. Traditionally, universities have primarily serviced school leavers.

However, as Deakin University Vice-Chancellor Iain Martin said of its 66,000 students, only 40% were school leavers. Most of its institutional resources in fact support non-school leavers, who also have different learning preferences and expectations. For example, 80% of its postgraduate students said their online learning experience was equal to or better than the physical experience.

This positive online experience does not necessarily mean that the physical campus is going away anytime soon. It has, however, prompted universities to rethink how they should be utilising their physical assets to deliver differentiated and “hybrid” learning experiences that blend the best of both physical and digital. This also includes how universities partner with industry. For example, Western Sydney University has sold campus assets then re-invested in different locations to better serve their hybrid model, while also nurturing tighter industry relationships by co-locating with its industry partners.

Learn more about trends in higher education by downloading the Connected Student Report.

About the Author

David Yip, Director of Industry Solutions
David Yip
Director of Industry Solutions
David Yip, director of industry solutions, joined earlier this year from DXC, where he led strategic client engagements in the Australian public sector. He’s currently focused on developing and leading the go-to-market strategy for Education Cloud in Australia and New Zealand.