Mark Newton, Managing Director at CoSector – University of London

We sat down [virtually] with Mark Newton, Managing Director at CoSector – University of London (@CoSectorDigital), to talk about how the business has been supporting customers during the pandemic and looking ahead at sector trends impacting further and higher education this year.

CoSector was born out of the University of London and supports over 100 further and higher education organisations in enriching their digital learning services. From updating and enhancing virtual learning environments (VLEs), to facilitating and developing robust digital assessments online.

Mark, what have been some of the key challenges that you and your customers have been facing during the pandemic and how have you supported them?

Most of our customers, and most of all are UK universities and colleges, have had the challenge of flipping to remote online learning at speed. We’ve been able to respond to people's requests very quickly for additional capacity in the systems and much of that has been delivered via the cloud.

To meet the demand in digital assessment and carrying out exams online, we’ve ensured services were stabilised online. With multiple students uploading assessments and content at the same time, we doubled the capacity to improve system performance to support this. 

At CoSector, we’ve also had the challenge of keeping ourselves running and I think we’ve done that pretty successfully. We flipped to remote working overnight and managed to keep everything running smoothly, remaining agile and supporting customer requests quickly.

What are your future predictions for higher and further education?

What is happening for universities is it has prompted and accelerated the fundamental change to a more hybrid way of working, I don't think it will ever go back.

I think the need for students to work remotely and have the right tools and the right materials, right collaboration and access to their lecturers and academics will not go back. I think gradually, as probably more next year, we'll go back to more face-to-face learning, but the remote bit won't go away, I think it will be a fundamental shift. And some universities and some of our customers are saying they are seeing that change.

What do you want your prospects and customers to know about CoSector this year?

COVID has really accelerated the need for CoSector to focus on digital learning, and the pandemic has certainly helped us to define those areas of the business. It’s now a clear focus for us in the future and helped to define our strategy within the leadership team.

Our focus within digital learning will be virtual learning environments such as Moodle including associated services development and continuing our research technology element too. We will be looking to grow these key areas over the next 3-5 years.

Digital assessment continues to be a key growth area for us and our partners at Janison. With the high demand for online learning that we’ve seen over the last 12-14 months, digital assessment and increasing accessibility for all will be key to the future of education.

How has PR and marketing helped portray this message?

PR and marketing certainly hold a key role in elevating CoSector digitally, and creating case studies and thought leadership content are really valuable. The reactive element is also really important with PR, given the shift to remote working it’s become harder to communicate face-to-face, so this has really allowed us to reach a wider audience and communicate with customers, both current and new.

Our presence on social media has also provided us with additional channels to distribute our content and drive traffic back to our website. Channels such as LinkedIn and FE News have allowed us to share industry news and discussion, as well as proven to generate enquiries from potential customers. The PR agency we use helps with our planning, content creation and outreach.

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