From education to employment

Smarter systems for smarter education

There has never been a better time to make our education technology systems smarter.  The demand for knowledge workers with specialised skills is growing by 11 percent a year. Many jobs require lifelong training and students are increasingly demanding a variety of alternative learning paths. Yet at the same time, many further education institutions are straining under budget cuts and as internal processes grow increasingly complex, administrative roles can account for up to 30% of expenditure. With better education linked to economic growth, smarter systems need to be part of a long-term strategy.

We know all too well that learners are immersed in technology, they are also demanding a more tailored education.  But in the current environment, how can we find the agility to respond to such demands?  In some respects the answer is simple – we take lessons learnt in other industries from around the globe and apply them to the business of education in the UK.

Across the world, educational establishments are looking to drive new levels of productivity – not simply cutting costs, but creating new operating models. They are achieving this by applying new technologies, such as analytics and cloud computing, with the aim of making their organisations operate more intelligently.

Predictive Analytics

Although the investment in education has steadily risen over the last decade, we have not seen a corresponding rise in student attainment levels. Students still fall behind and drop out, yet officials lack the data to spot the at-risk cases. Paper processes, siloed systems and antiquated administrative functions waste precious resources and block access to the real-time information that could provide insight.

By connecting academic, operational and financial data and coupling it with the right reporting and analysis capabilities, education organisations can:

  • Track student performance across institutions, intake and courses.

  • Monitor attendance, mobility and intervention patterns to take remedial action.

  • Analyse lecturer development and curriculum effectiveness at any level.

  • Measure effectiveness of spending against results to report to stakeholders.

Taking a proactive approach to deriving insight from data will enhance decision-making and means that we can target issues before they happen. This gives students the support they need with tailored education and the college an improvement in success rates – while simultaneously getting the best returns from college resources and protecting funding streams .

Automation and Integration

Back office functions are increasingly complex and are growing at an accelerated rate, furthermore up to 70% of college income is spent on staff. Technology can play a pivotal role in creating smarter administrative processes, freeing resources to impact other areas of learning and enabling staff to concentrate on higher value work – at a time when financial cut-backs are threatening the very survival of institutions. Although back office functions can uncontrollably drain resources, they can be rationalised and automated using smart software to streamline the expanding operation and improve data consistency.

Smarter administration can unlock the value of information for better outcomes in educational systems by:

  • Giving administrators and business officers more information about institutional performance – asset management, financial trends and risk exposures.

  • Using open and community-sourced administrative applications built on open standards to enable inter-operable processes and workflows.

  • Creating shared service centres that leverage economies of scale, green technology, cloud computing and virtualisation to reduce development, maintenance and operational costs.

  • Lowering the cost of teacher, faculty and staff computing resources through internal desktop cloud services.

With this better management, measurement and processes it is estimated that the effectiveness of education institutions could be raised 22% at the existing spending levels.

International Collaboration

For some institutions, streamlining and efficiency just won’t be enough. As education in the UK becomes more commoditised and potential learners seek real value from an institution before signing up, the education industry will become a highly competitive landscape. Additionally the learner pool is expected to shrink, stifling revenue growth for many further education institutions.

In a recent online conference hosted by IBM, 2000 students and staff from over 200 education institutions, across 40 countries, contributed to a discussion on the future of the education industry. A key revelation was that 80 percent of students said they wanted to “revamp the traditional learning environment to include virtual learning, video-conferencing and more interdisciplinary curricula”.

Cloud technology is a great medium to help address these points. Cloud enables “any device” learning for students which means they can access a virtual learning environment from anywhere, anytime, on demand. Additionally cloud technology can extend the reach of the UK’s education excellence to a world market by delivering distance learning through webinars, podcasts and video-conferencing – and in doing so, create a source of much needed growth.

Now is the time to invest in innovation as that is the only way to bring real systemic change to the sector and address the ‘more for less’ agenda. Out of the chaos comes the opportunity to shape a new landscape for further education.

Cailean Hargrave is Further Education Business Development Manager at IBM, the multinational technology and consulting firm

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