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Universities get to grips with remote learning, but students still questioning value for money

University of Cambridge

@Citrix have launched some new research which reveals that university and higher education institutions in the UK have made significant strides in regards to remote learning – but just a quarter of students believe they are getting value for money.

In January 2021, an Ofsted report explained that, until mass vaccination is achieved, educational institutions will continue to mainly rely on remote solutions to mitigate against learning loss as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, new Citrix research suggests that the majority (79%) of students are concerned that long-term remote learning will have a negative impact on their studies.

However, more than two in five students (43%) think that online classes can be effective, if rolled out in the right way with the right tools and guidance. And 38% of students would prefer to continue with a blended model of both campus and online learning.  

The research – commissioned by Citrix and carried out by One Poll – surveyed 500 UK students and 500 university vice chancellors, CTOs / CIOs and IT directors / managers in December last year. It sought to identify the challenges, opportunities and general sentiments of both university decision-makers and students in the UK.

When reflecting on the overall learning experience in the past academic year, the majority (92%) of students confirmed they could easily access the necessary learning materials, apps and data when learning remotely. In fact, two-thirds (67%) of students said their experience was either as expected or better than expected. Yet, only 25% felt their university course offered them value for money. If they had the choice again, almost one in three (29%) would have taken a year out of study and on top of this, almost one in ten (9%) would have gone straight into work.

“The universities best prepared to deliver against student expectations will be those those that have robust and compelling digital tools to deliver consistent and cohesive learning experiences, both on- and off-campus,“ said Mark Sweeney, regional vice president, UK and Ireland, Citrix. “When we come out the other side of the pandemic, we have a real opportunity to ensure that the much-hyped ‘new normal’ works better for everyone.”

When asked about IT security within universities, an overwhelming 89% of staff surveyed said they were comfortable with their IT security provisions at the time of questioning. This is encouraging in light of a recent alert published by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), warning of the increased likelihood of ransomware attacks on education establishments. Regardless, university staff do not expect the amount of data hosted in their cloud to decrease – in fact a slight increase is expected from pre-COVID levels (3%)..

While the views of with university staff were complemented by 77% of students agreeing that their university takes the security of their connection, personal data and overall experience very seriously, the NCSC alert conveys the evolving threat of cyber attacks during the pandemic – and why universities should be prepared to have their defences tested in the coming months.

Encouragingly, the decision-makers polled said their university is currently making investments in technologies that support long-term remote learning – including virtual desktops and apps (36%), laptops for students (34%), file sharing platforms (34%) and collaboration tools (32%).

It’s not just new technology that will improve learning experiences though. Over a third (37%) of students would like to see their professors upskilled on how to use technology more effectively to deliver their courses. Looking ahead, universities have acknowledged the requirement for continued improvement and will monitor the quality of this remote-learning experience through focus groups (43%), social media (43%), internal surveys (39%) and complaints (37%).

“Universities can’t reduce the noise, clutter and distractions that students face at home, but they can reduce digital distractions by delivering a workspace that helps to simplify notifications and streamline students’ workflows,” Sweeney added.

“While the right technology is essential to providing a successful hybrid learning environment, so is the right organisational culture. Leadership needs to support the move to remote learning, and educators need to be trained to use the tools provided to ensure maximum return from their investment. Ultimately, the universities that make such investments for students, faculty and staff alike will stand the highest chance of success in the next stage of the higher education evolution – not only attracting and retaining UK students, but also driving an inclusive student experince and broadening their institutions’ geographic reach.”

The University of Salford is one higher education provider which has seen the value of a hybrid, or blended, work environment, and has offered an improved student experience as a result. Angus Rae, Head of Service Delivery, University of Salford said:

“We were well prepared for remote learning at the start of the pandemic, because we had already implemented a strategy to make the university more digitally focused and had rolled out technology to support this, and as a result, the feedback we’ve had has been positive. I think students will return to campus post-Covid, but there is an opportunity to improve their experience when they do, and to offer more flexibility around core teaching hours. Technology allows our students to work when and where they want, something which may not have been available three or four years ago. As a student, your circumstances may change during your course, and the university needs to be able to support those students on their journeys. This is also key to increasing retention and improving experience across the board. These new opportunities mean it’s an exciting time for higher education.”

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