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Location Services – Make or Break for Higher Education?

Jamie Pitchforth, Head of Education Practice EMEA at Juniper Networks

Jamie Pitchforth, Head of Education Practice, EMEA at Juniper Networks, looks into how institutions can enrich their on-campus experience for students and faculty with actionable insights and assured access, while respecting data privacy fundamentals.

Location services and the benefits of their deployment are not a new concept to higher education communities. In fact, higher education institutions already understand and recognise the value to be gained from location adoption. But in reality, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) battery beacon deployment at scale has never been practical and remains the barrier that blocks the technology benefits.

An All-in-One Solution: Virtual BLE (vBLE)

Today, location services can help universities deliver a wide variety of strategic objectives which all put student experience to the fore.

The competition among universities to attract and retain students has never been fiercer. Therefore, the drive to enhance the recruitment process and continued support for student retention is paramount to success. Integrating virtual BLE (vBLE) navigation and mobile engagement with the university’s mobile app to create interactive, guided tours that will enrich campus open days can ensure the university puts on its best face when attracting new students. And once students are enrolled, analysing footfall data to understand student engagement enables universities to identify those consistently participating in campus life, and those not.

Armed with this data around engagement and class attendance, universities can better monitor student health and wellbeing by identifying withdrawn behaviour potentially caused by social issues. From this, flagging trends and anomalies can help drive attendance improvements, student success and overall satisfaction, not to manage improved pastoral care.

Furthermore, universities can help drive student engagement by improving university-to-student communications in real-time through location and BLE technology. This will enable them to proactively engage with students, based on who they are, where they are and the time of day.

Limited but highly demanded study space can be a source of great frustration for students and staff alike. Universities can better manage study space by using BLE and footfall analytics to enable students and staff to effectively identify and book study spaces. This saves time, enhances the student experience and ensures efficient use of available space. This is especially relevant in the context of COVID-19 guidelines, where social distancing requirements may cause the availability of study space to be even more limited. The additional use of contact tracing, journey planning and congestion alerting can work alongside study space booking systems to create a safer, more secure environment to which students and staff can return.

Technology innovation is now virtualising this BLE network layer, opening the door to more engaging, experience-first services and an unsurpassed level of data insight and intelligence informing strategies and steering investments. Now is the time for institutions to invest in industry pioneers of virtualised BLE beacons – those that stand out from the crowd in enabling their customers to remove boundaries, embrace location at scale and reap the benefits that have been an empty promise for so long.

Steer Clear of Compliance Issues: The Data Privacy Challenge

The contract between a university and the student is a non-negotiable foundation that underpins every education and research partnership. Higher education institutions are no different than any other organisation when it comes to personal data and privacy legislation (i.e., the GDPR). Personal data protection is a fundamental citizens’ right. Yet, in a rapidly changing world where living with COVID-19 in our communities is now a fact of life, this begs the question as to whether the acceptability needle has shifted, with students and faculty alike needing an assured safe and secure campus to which to return.

Tracking student footfall with an ability to identify specific students will rightly raise some questions – and it is up to individuals’ personal choice to opt in or opt out, and to which every strategy should adhere. However, it is also important to note that embracing location services can create a safer campus environment and help to reduce the impact significantly if a student or member of staff tests positive.

When integrated into a university’s app, BLE location services can provide sub-1 meter location accuracy and the ability to harvest footfall analytics for contact tracing, journey mapping, congestion alerting and dwell times. These are all essential elements to protect and keep students and faculty safe.

It is recognised that COVID-19 alone may not support a business case as justification for campus-wide location services, but it should be positioned as one significant and advantageous benefit among many.

Institutions who embrace vBLE technology and adopt location services within their core network strategy will benefit from new analytics, gaining access to an unprecedented level of intelligence and insight to drive new services and better experiences, reduce operational overheads and create a safer environment. Collectively, these powerful benefits build a compelling case for universities to consider embracing and adopting network-enabled location technology in the near term in order to outrun their competition.

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