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TikTok student generation expect digital university experiences to be as good as face-to-face campus life and learning

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  • Almost 70% of students say university digital experiences must become as good as Amazon, Netflix and Facebook    
  • Half of students say quality of digital learning determined their university choice    
  • 91% think what their university offers in terms of digital services should be as strong as face-to-face lectures and life on the physical campus    
  • 93% want learning and campus services combined in a complete digital experience    
  • Majority want digital universities to stay with them post-graduation    
  • Universities risk running out of time to close the expectation gap and the implications could be profound    

21-06-2022: The digital campus is as important as a traditional face-to-face university life and learning, research by digital design innovation agency Great State has found.

The study of more than two thousand students currently attending higher education institutions reveals 91% think what their university offers in terms of digital services should be as strong as face-to-face lectures and life on the physical campus. 

The level of expectation of a university’s digital learning and wider digital service delivery was highlighted by the finding that 68% of current students think their universities should be able to offer digital services that are as good as Facebook, Amazon and Netflix.

Students also expect universities to provide digital platforms offering more than learning support, to encompass services that support things like wellbeing and encourage a sense of community. Additionally, 90% of students say a good digital experience aids academic performance.

The majority – 93% – say they expect universities to offer a digital experience that combines campus information, services and support as well as information and services from the local area and relevant external organisations.

Why a good digital experience of higher education matters

Students were unequivocal about why a university’s digital experience delivery should be of a high standard – 90% agree with the statement “it helps me to perform better academically” and 92% say it helps them manage their student life.

Half of the students asked by Great State say the quality of a university’s overall digital experience was a factor in their choice of university.

A high proportion (86%) say good digital experiences help maintain mental wellbeing, make them feel part of the university and are a great way to build a strong student community.

Great State’s research reinforces the view that in the future the quality of a university’s digital offering will determine the institution’s success or decline.

Great State also found that students are looking at a wide range of online information when selecting their university. As well as the university website (71%) and UCAS (58%), almost a third of students are also reviewing online feedback and reviews on third-party sites (27%) and a quarter look at university social media.

Must do better – How students rate their digital university experience

When it comes to digital learning technology, most universities are still not offering what their students would regard as “state of the art” digital experiences. Less than a quarter (23%) think their university’s digital learning delivery is comparable to current standards of technology in other areas of life.

The majority (67%) think higher education institutions are “covering the digital learning basics well” while 10% think their university is “behind the curve” in terms of digital learning execution.

Universities are further behind in offering a total digital campus experience including social, cultural, organisational, health and well-being services. Great State found 57% of students agree their university was offering a good basic range of these digital services, but 21% felt their institution was behind the curve or had no wider digital services to speak of.

University for life?

Great State’s research reveals digitisation of university services could change the duration and nature of students’ relationship with higher education brands.

A large majority of students now expect to have a digital relationship with their university well after they have graduated – 81% of students agree they would like their university to provide a digital experience that “stays with me after I graduate”.

Asked what kind of digital services they would like post-graduation and 41% say they would appreciate continued learning and coaching resources while 63% say they would like to connect with other alumni and 36% would like regular communications from the university.

Stuart Avery, Chief Executive of Great State commented: “The extent of the gap between student expectations and delivery of digital services in higher education is clear in this study – today’s students expect the ‘digital campus’ to be as good as the one they experience face-to-face. It will only take one first mover to show students what university could be like, to spark comprehensive change across the higher education space.

“Our study suggests students have been relatively forgiving post Covid and are giving universities a grace period in which to up-grade the digital learning and support services they deliver. However, given it takes two to three years to implement a digital strategy across a large organisation, universities are in effect in a race against time to a transform themselves or risk being left behind.”


In January and February 2022, Great State conducted research about digital experiences with UK universities and students.

Great State commissioned Youthsite to run an online survey with a representative sample of 2,222 current UK students, asking questions about the digital experiences their university provide, how they engage with them and what they expect from them. They also asked respondents about their attitudes and engagement with digital experiences as a prospective student, and what they expect after they graduate.

In addition, Great State carried out qualitative interviews with senior digital stakeholders at five UK universities.

About Great State

We help large organisations embrace transformational technology that enhances customer and employee experiences. Being one of the UK’s most awarded independent agencies, we know what it means to make great work and have been doing it for more than 20 years. Business and brand strategy, digital product and service innovation and enterprise technology services are all combined under one roof to transform digital services for well-known brands, such as: The Royal Navy, University of Bristol, University of the West of England, Birmingham City University, Honda, Barclays, Orange and more. Headquartered in Bristol, United Kingdom, our diverse team of specialists help organisations prepare for a digital future in a creative and strategic way.  

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