Why investment in technology will be key to securing the future of Buckingham's universities

The positive economic impact of Buckingham’s two universities cannot be underestimated, but should we be worried about their future? By Leo Hanna, UK Executive Vice President of TechnologyOne.
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Universities are more than simply institutions of teaching and research. They act as engines of progress for their local region and play a crucial role in attracting talent, supporting businesses to grow, and delivering technologies and skills for new industries to flourish.

By fostering a culture of learning, innovation and community engagement, universities contribute significantly to the social and economic well-being of the surrounding region.

The University of Buckingham and Buckinghamshire New University (BNU) are regarded as integral to the local economy in terms of the employment opportunities they create and the gross value added (GVA) they contribute each year. Despite being one of the smallest universities in the UK with approximately 3,300 students, the University of Buckingham is an important local employer and attracts students of over 100 different nationalities, and BNU employs around 9,000 students from over 100 countries.

Digital transformation is key to the future of Buckingham's universitiesDigital transformation is key to the future of Buckingham's universities
Digital transformation is key to the future of Buckingham's universities

Yet the future of Buckingham’s universities isn’t guaranteed.

UK universities are in crisis – four in ten forecast a deficit and universities are predicted to lose more than £17bn in real income over the next four years.

The level of financial pressure on the sector is increasing as the tuition fees for domestic students, capped at £9,250 since 2017, have failed to keep up with the pace of inflation.

Universities have no room for error when it comes to spending decisions. Something has got to give, and universities cannot afford for that to be the quality of education, support services or the overall university experience for their students. Many universities are run on ageing IT systems, no longer fit for purpose, causing huge inefficiencies and presenting compliance and risk problems. The need to find new ways of working and invest in modern technology has never been more evident.

The latest data from UCAS shows that UK university applications are down for the third year in a row, and the trend of declining international applications, largely as a result of government policy changes, compounds the problem. International students now account for roughly a fifth of UK universities’ income, up from a tenth a decade ago. Any drop in international student applications is bad news for Buckingham’s universities where international students represent a significant part of the student population.

With universities having to compete more fiercely than ever before for their share of domestic and international students, universities need to be able to offer an outstanding student experience – from application right through to graduation. Technology will play a vital role in helping them to both attract and retain students. Most university students of today are digital natives and have elevated expectations of the technological capabilities of their university.

Digital transformation will also be key in helping students stay the course. Student dropout rates are a major concern for universities. Student maintenance loans have failed to keep up with the rising cost of living, and, according to recent research, 7 in 10 UK students have considered dropping out of university with the cost of living as the leading reason. Juggling work commitments alongside studies marks a new normal as, for the first time on record, research has shown that more university students are engaged in paid employment than not.

Student attrition is not only a wasted opportunity for the individual, but also a threat to a university’s pre-committed revenue. Proactive universities are increasingly turning to smart technology for solutions to identify and intervene when students face challenges – be it financial or emotional – to minimise attrition rates and ensure student success.

Digital transformation projects require significant investment and resources, so it is understandable that those universities already tightening their belts during the cost of living crisis are hesitant to engage with new technology. But smart investments such as these will be crucial in helping universities find savings, better serve students tomorrow and offer the way forward to future-proof the stability and success of universities such as the University of Buckingham and BNU.

For more information, please visit www.technologyonecorp.co.uk.