Competition for fee-paying students, reinforced by Government measures to extend the range of Higher Education (HE) providers, means many universities have sought to make their student-facing systems more responsive to user needs. While this has undoubtedly led to more cost-effective and better quality services, the approaches used by universities often remain provider-centric and best suited to standardised services and customer groups.
To develop a genuinely student-centred experience, universities need to formulate strategy and focus operations with a clear view of the student market segments they are targeting. Learning experiences must be designed around the needs of the targeted student groups, and operating models – organisation, processes, systems and people – must be shaped to deliver the promised student experiences.
PA’s total student framework identifies four distinct strategies to help universities match their approach with the student experiences they offer:
‘Napster-U’: open source and student led
This model empowers students to design and manage their own learning experiences, drawing on open learning resources and social media platforms, supplemented by personalised advice and guidance from the home institution. Just as the launch of Napster represented a landmark shift to a customer-led model in the music industry, this model represents the fullest move to student-led learning. Some universities are already exploring this model by introducing open curricula and innovative learning models such as learn-and-earn programmes, as well as the new MOOC (Massive Open On-line Courses) movement.
‘Networked-U’: open source and institution led
Under this model, services are delivered through an open sourcing approach, for example through partnerships, ventures and contracts with specialist providers (such as INTO, Kaplan, UPP or Blackboard) or through shared service and collaboration arrangements with other HE institutions. This model enables universities to extend the reach and scope of their student offers without incurring the full costs of maintaining a wide portfolio of in-house programmes and related facilities. It can work well for smaller and regionally-focused universities aiming to offer ‘big university’choices to students.
‘Lean-U’: closed system, institution led
This model reflects the current approach for most universities. Student-facing services are designed and managed as in-house operations through standardised processes, often using ‘Lean’ approaches to balance efficiency and user-quality measures. This model is best suited to universities targeting conventional undergraduate students seeking full-time, campus-based programmes and content to fit in with the standard academic delivery model.
‘Flexible-U’: closed system, student led
This model gives learners more choice about how they engage with the institution, by providing a range of access options (on-line, face-to-face, blended learning) available on a year-round, 24/7 basis. Institutions might also offer modular, credit-based provision that allows students to follow their own learning pathways over extended timescales. This model is best suited to universities targeting non-traditional student groups – part-time and work-based students, those seeking professional or technical qualifications and updates, and those unable to attend campus-based programmes.
These are radical challenges for established universities, and will be difficult and sometimes painful to meet. But they are already being met through innovative developments across the higher education system, albeit mostly from outside the HE mainstream. If universities do not respond to the student-led market, then others will.