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Simon Harrison, CIO, Kingston University
As a leading UK university, we want to make sure that our students get as much as possible from their time with us, whether that be in their recreational time or during their studies. We know what technology can give us the upper hand here because students have come to expect the same level of technology in their studies as they do in their personal lives. They have been using laptops, smartphones and tablets on a daily basis and have constant access to hundreds of applications, from social media and email to online banking and retail. Why should they not have the same supporting their education?
Matching millennial expectations
Month on month, we at Kingston are seeing more and more connected devices being used across the university, including a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) community of 20,000 students. Not only do they expect their tech to work when they come to university; they expect to use their own devices to do their academic work.
Research by one of our key partners and suppliers – cloud computing and virtualisation company VMware – showed just how high up technology is in a student’s hierarchy of needs – it’s second only to food and shelter. Half (46%) of the 1,000 students questioned stated that they considered the level of IT on offer when choosing their university. Yet more than a quarter (26%) said they didn’t feel that the technology provisions at their university were consistent with the tuition fees they are paying. And of course with those fees being higher than ever, so are their expectations around technology. So, what can be done by IT departments to make sure they are meeting the needs of their students?
Using technology to enhance learning
From our experience, technology is absolutely crucial for enhancing the learning experience, from infrastructure and networking, to the applications they make available and how they are accessed. It’s also hugely important to be progressive and look forward, given that most of our revenues come from government funding or students. For us, that meant investing from the ground up by providing high-speed web and data access across the entire campus, and replacing our servers, storage and back-up hardware. Expanding on the existing infrastructure to create a ‘university without walls’, we then installed a virtual desktop solution with VMware. This means all students can work from anywhere on any device, with access to the applications they needed to study in a secure and efficiently managed environment. Given that we have around 600 teaching applications, which range from design and geoengineering through to statistical packages, access to these from any location is absolutely critical to support academic learning for our students.
Ultimately, universities need to realise how important technology is to students; 92% claim that having IT facilities can help them work in a more flexible way and enhance their studies. IT departments need to ensure students have a positive experience and that they can easily and reliably access the university systems and information to support their learning from any location and device – whether that is on campus or at home, in the UK or abroad. Supporting a generation of people who have grown up with the most advanced technologies at their fingertips is something we should all aspire to do.