Our universities currently find themselves in an uphill battle to meet the expectations of a growing population of students and their wavering expectations. Here, higher education leaders are held back by challenges across funding, global competition, a growing connected world and often inapplicable legacy systems.

All the while, the world of work confronts a widening digital skills gap, with a recent British Chamber of Commerce survey showing that more than three-in-four businesses are facing significant shortages of skills in their workforce.

To overcome, universities and their leaders must take an active role in equipping students with digital skills. For this, they must look to technology to find solutions and resources to enhance campus experiences, empower faculties, and harness data to improve outcomes once and for all.

As the last gateway before the world of work, the university remains an instrumental experience in a young person’s life and career.

So as the digital revolution takes hold, education leaders must now take advantage of the way technology can support learning, tackle workload and drive campus improvement.

After all, empowering the students of today will indeed affect the world we live and work in tomorrow.

The emerging world of work

We are all aware that the workplace is evolving, powered by new collaborative technologies, the rise of automation and artificial intelligence (AI). What this means for universities and students is that the skills required to thrive in the workplace of tomorrow are changing. These are met with heightened expectations of what the next set of graduates are anticipated to achieve upon entering the world of work.

At Microsoft, we are always looking ahead, anticipating what the future holds for students and businesses alike. So much so, we recently launched our “The class of 2030 and life-ready learning” research report which takes a deep dive into the specific skills sets and requirements needed now and in the future.

So, what about today? Well now more than ever, employees seek digital natives in the workplace, as well as innately human skills, such as creativity.

Indeed, the World Economic Forum has listed creativity in the top three skills that people will need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, alongside problem solving and critical thinking.

So, what can universities do to ensure that they are playing an active role in nurturing these skills in their students, so that all of them can leave the university lecture halls feeling empowered and optimistic about going into work?

The first step universities should take is to make sure that their students feel equipped to harness the power of technology. Lecturers here need to make use of the technology innovations available to revamp their lessons, making them more collaborative, inclusive and engaging.

Take Bristol University for example, which is using innovative software and mobile technology to increase student engagement levels and transform the learning experience.

What’s more, by using collaboration technology tools whilst at university, students can enhance their creativity, communication and team working skills, all of which are easily transferrable to the workplace.

Staff at the university are also making use of the scalable technology to empower their roles allowing them to collaboration globally which is crucial for the progression of their academic research and investigation, for example.

Taking the initiative – students and tutors alike

While both digital and soft skills are fostered whilst at university under the guidance of lecturers, tutors and seminar leads, the responsibility also lands on the student’s desk. Here, students should take it upon themselves to upskill alongside technology.

Indeed, Microsoft’s Digital Skills Programme aims to provide students with the latest technology skills they need to be a part of the digital revolution. For example, look at the medical sector. Here, it’s clear that through PwC research there is great potential for technology in AI and robotics to transform how healthcare practises run forever.

Therefore, it is so important for students to get accustomed to working with new and emerging technology, as their future careers depend on it.

It’s not just students that can benefit here as lecturers also can raise their own productivity levels and improve their learning experience.

Cloud-based software can promote mobile learning so that students and university leaders can tap into their creativity anywhere, from any device, and then pick it up on another device at a later stage without losing any information.

Naturally, this also has the potential to shake up the way educators teach and rather than lecturing at students they can create a more interactive experience where they offer students the ability to engage with the material in real time, ask questions and retain information much better.

Work in progress

Significant work is clearly being done now to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in a technology-driven future, but it’s important to understand that this is not something that will take place overnight.

Universities must be prepared for a long-term commitment to revolutionise the way teaching is done, which has been left quite untouched whilst technology has moved on considerably.

In a similar vein, students must also embrace the initiative to adopt technology to further empower their ability and knowledge to future proof skills for the impending world of work.

Technology holds no bounds when it comes to the emerging workplace and while the jobs of the future may yet to be discovered, it’s clear that those that take the initiative today will get ahead and stay ahead tomorrow.

Ian Fordham, Education Director, Microsoft UK 

Copyright © 2018 FE News

About the author: Ian Fordham joined Microsoft UK as Director of Education in January 2017 from Edtech UK where he was CEO.

Ian is co-founder of The Education Foundation, the UK’s leading cross-sector education think tank, and is also a Mayor of London Technology Ambassador & Advisory Board member of Edtech UK. He has held positions across the education and not-for-profit sector, including Deputy Director of the British Council for School Environments, Head of Policy at ContinYou, Head of Training and Development at Education Extra.

Ian's started his career as a Sociology & Psychology teacher, worked in government for the Charity Commission before joining Education Extra as Head of Training, delivering projects for the Department of Education & Welsh Government. He became Policy Director for the charity ContinYou & helped scale up the Extended Schools agenda. He set up his own business in 2005 and worked as a policy advisor for a number of UK charities. He then joined the British Council for School Environments before setting up The Education Foundation and Edtech UK. He is also a former member of the UK government's expert group on Education Technology (ETAG).

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