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EY Study Focuses on How Universities Are Failing Students and Faculty — and What to Do About It

Students, faculty, and administrators around the world believe that putting human needs first will make universities more successful and attract and retain more students, according to a recent EY survey. The survey, "Why Human-Centered Transformation Design is Critical for Universities," conducted in collaboration with Times Higher Education (THE), queried 3,030 students and hundreds of faculty, researchers, and administrators in 11 countries about the current state of digital education.

The report opens with the assertion that "higher education was never designed with humans at the center," noting that, "Throughout history, universities have been made to serve academic and government requirements. Later, their structures were set in stone by rigid IT systems and inflexible governance models. Students were expected to fit in — and be grateful for the chance to do so."

Significant findings from the survey are as follows:

  • A third of students were either neutral or not happy with their universities because they didn't feel their needs were being addressed.
  • Nearly half of the students (48%) chose their program for career development purposes.
  • Nearly half of the students (42%) worked part time, and another 28% worked full time, were caring for others, or running a business. Over half (52%) wanted both in-person and online course access and more flexibility in their education and assessments.
  • Nearly half (48%) said the quality of teaching/instruction was extremely important and universities should invest more in training faculty on digital education methods.
  • Teaching faculty felt overburdened with the time it takes to administrate tasks, teach, and learn new skills such as using digital education.
  • Researchers wanted better connections with colleagues and research worldwide and many of their administrative research tasks handled digitally.
  • Administrators wanted as much of their work automated as possible to reduce their workload, streamline their financial responsibilities, and have more time for "value added activities."

The report notes that even though more education was delivered online during the pandemic, the quality of remote learning experiences was not meeting student needs. Students (83%) felt high-quality teaching was their first priority, with online teaching more important than in-person.

"Investment in digital teaching technology has been on the to-do list of university leaders for years and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated that need dramatically; implementation timelines had to shrink from years to weeks," said Catherine Friday, EY's global education leader. "These systems and practices need to be designed with the people they'll serve in mind, rather than fitting in around existing structures…. As universities around the world are also facing financial challenges, losing students because of something that universities can readily address simply doesn't make sense."

Teaching faculty complained they were short on time to learn new digital tools and incorporate them seamlessly into their teaching, also noting that many of these tools were difficult to learn or were too similar to other tools already in place.

The report asserts that in the near future, universities will need to unify all their digital services and operations. Some of the report's recommendations are to:

  • Develop effective online programs that will attract students;
  • Make online programs flexible and supportive of student learning;
  • Adopt digital programs that shift administrative burdens from teachers so they can focus on teaching;
  • Adopt technologies that allow universities to manage and collaborate on world-class research;
  • Sustainably manage costs by making wise investments in technology;
  • Have a fully digital campus that can handle both administrative and student service workflows; and
  • Unify data storage and protect it with strong cybersecurity.

"Universities need to move to intelligent operating models, where all digital systems are stitched together," the report concluded. "The underlying technology for a digital campus is a collection of human-centric digital platforms that combine applications with analytics and intelligent automation to deliver personalized and adaptive digital user experiences."

Friday noted, "[I]t is vital that any new systems are designed with their users in mind and that comprehensive training is provided. Our research showed that some staff feel that poorly implemented digital systems can feel like an addition to workloads, rather than helping staff fulfill their most important goal: delivering for students and society."

Visit this page to read the survey results and download a copy of the report.

About the Author

Kate Lucariello is a former newspaper editor, EAST Lab high school teacher and college English teacher.

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