Universities Australia 2017 Higher Education Conference

Article highlights

  • Universities need to be digitally enabled
  • Interactions should be seamless on and offline
  • Millennials expect instant and personal interactions

The challenges of a digitally literate student population

Senior managers from Australian Universities shared the challenges they are currently facing due to digital disruption and describe changing student expectations at Universities Australia Higher Education Conference, Canberra, March 2017.

“We're at the Universities Australia Higher Education Conference,” said Stuart MacDonald, Chief Operating Officer, TechnologyOne. “One of the things that we're looking for through this conference is an understanding from executives where they're seeing this space going from digital disruption, from the Millennials, and how they're going to support the Millennials and their growth in the future.”

“Digital disruption is affecting Australian universities in a range of ways,” said Barney Glover, Chair, Universities Australia. “For the most part I think in a very positive way. We're dealing with a generation of students coming through Australian universities whose digital skills are nothing like we've had even a decade ago. We're having to deal with and respond to the challenges of a very digitally literate student population, and that's an exciting opportunity.”

What's new in EDU?

“One of the real trends we're seeing in higher education is students, very much, being in the driver's seat,” said Belinda Robinson, Chief Executive, Universities Australia. “Students are demanding where they study, what they study, how they study, and when they study. Digital technology enables them to be able to do that.”

“There's no question that our students today are completely digitally native,” said Professor Tanya Monro, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research and Innovation, University of South Australia. “They're communicating not just with each other but with us digitally and they expect to be able to access everything they need on the fly with any device. That means we've got to be more nimble in being able to offer those services students needs to be able to study wherever they happen to be.”

QUT Vice Chancellor, Peter Coaldrake said, “We live in a profoundly disrupted world. QUT is institution which looks at and serves the professions in large part, and all the professional groups are being profoundly disrupted. We have reconceptualised services we provide to our students. Instead of providing our students with services offered by different silos, we've gone back to basic principles and said, "What do students want? What do student like? What do students need? When they like it and where do they like it?" That's been profoundly disruptive for the staff but profoundly exciting for the institution as well as the staff.”

“Students are used to being able to have instant access to information, to go on to platforms and order an Uber,” said Dr James Trotter, Deputy Dean, School of Arts, Murdoch University. “When they come to university what they find is a very low-tech manual experience for the most part.”

It's something personal

“Students expect the products to be really high quality, they expect instant contact, and they also expect personalised interaction, even though it might be online,” said Sue Carthew, Provost and Vice President, Charles Darwin University.

Owen Nevin, Associate Vice Chancellor CQU said “Students expect a very slick customer-focused online experience which often, for the university, we struggle with making that as seamless as the commercial experience that they get in their online shopping or social media, because we are working with a transition from back-of-house to moving that experience into front-of-house.”

“Digital disruption has affected the University of Canberra by making us really think about the student journey and the student experience, and the changing nature of the student experience,” said Scott Nichols, University of Canberra.

“We deal with students on a national level so it's really important that we are digitally enabled so that we can reach a very wide range of students,” said Kathy Vozella, Director Marketing and External Relations at ACU.

Changing expectations

“The digital disruption is also affecting the expectations of students entering university, and I think that's one of the exciting things,” explained Barney Glover, Chair, Universities Australia. “In 2017-2018 we will be having the first group of Millennials coming into universities, born in 2000-2001, wow! We know they have completely different idea what the digital world means to them and their expectations around it. The availability of information, the real-time nature of information, the quality of the information that they can receive.”

“Students expectations are changing with digital disruption in that they're expecting more just in time, any time any device services from universities,” said Scott Nichols, Director of Student Administration, University of Canberra

“We've been in this sector for 30 years, and in the last three years we've seen a significant shift,” said said Stuart MacDonald, Chief Operating Officer, TechnologyOne. “The empowerment that Millennials expect from their applications. It is something that the world is trying to catch up to. We've been lucky because we've been on that curve for the last seven years getting ready for it. They expect a rich interface to be empowered with information when they need it, and easy to get to, from any process, from anywhere in the world, and we're very lucky that we've got the solutions that can do that using our OneUniversity enterprise software built for the Education sector.”

Leverage our learnings 

“We need to be able to deliver the information instantly and wherever the students want to access the information,” said Sebastian Raneskold, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Flinders University.

“Students really, they want it when they want it, how they want it, and we need to be able to deliver that to the student and to every student,” said Teresa Tjia, Vice-President Planning, Registrar and University Secretary, Victoria University.

“The big challenges are that a lot of systems don't integrate so we don't have universal logins, we don't have universal data and universal data analytics,” said Martin Caroll, Pro Vice Chancellor, Education and Student Success, Charles Darwin University. “The students don't know or care about that. They just know that these things are possible so why aren't they happening?”

“The disruption is that we need to move phenomenally fast to capitalise on those opportunities to link students with each other, with the university, with their courses materials, assessment tasks, and with their employers and industry and relevant communities globally, and we need to do it now,” said Mr Caroll.

About Universities Australia Higher Education Conference

Universities Australia's Higher Education Conference is an annual two-day event that brings together 900 delegates including the most senior figures from Australia’s universities to consider the expectations and needs of the next generation of students, the implications for university education and research, and the next generation of technology.

Publish date

08 Mar 2019

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