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1 June 2021

The impact of a pandemic on the student journey

The Novel Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we work, live, and study the world over. While the shift to remote working has been possible for many businesses, who have a mainly consistent workforce population, only usually changing through growth or attrition, the same cannot be said for academic institutions.

While education can be carried out online for current students, the new academic year slated to start in September, at least for most courses and institutions, poses a huge challenge. Hundreds of thousands of new students across the UK & Ireland will need to be onboarded onto their courses, receive credentials (usernames/passwords), gain access to materials & timetable information, arrange accommodation, pay for their education and many other tasks, a large amount of which would usually be carried out whilst on-campus. The tradition of an in-person registration of students to confirm their identity and formally register, although mainly being phased out, but still carried out at many UK institutions, is now no longer possible due to the pandemic. So this year there will likely be full dependence on the digital registration process and the platforms and automation that support it to provide access to systems for students.

Should the platform not be able to support the demand for the services then there is no failover to a manual process, normally provided in person by University staff, as students will not likely be able to attend an on-campus registration.

With university revenues from tuition fees (worth £40bn* annually across HE) averaging around 60%** of total revenue per institution and a high proportion of this figure being from international students, it is vital that these students can be onboarded properly, get the access they need to learn remotely, and be provided with an excellent user experience. While students have always been provided IT systems and Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), historically the user experience was not always a primary concern. Since the introduction of tuition fees, students have transitioned into a consumer or customer like state, and as such expect a much-improved standard of service. Any issues and bad experiences are immediately placed on social media, and can result in reputational damage for an institution, especially as reviews on experiences will last online, likely long after a student has left.

Additionally, as distance electronic learning becomes, for the time at least, the primary method of education, there will be an expectation, by paying students, that the institution will provide a high-quality remote learning service and experience, regardless of location.

Academic institutions therefore face a potential fourfold crisis:

  1. Dropping tuition income as students defer their education till it can be in person, or forced to defer due to travel restrictions,
  2. A reliance on remote or distance learning, even for local students, that could be deemed unsatisfactory in the eyes of students,
  3. The need to provide a service to thousands of students remotely, that requires a reliance on digital platforms being able to satisfy unprecedented demand,
  4. Increased costs of providing digital services, whilst dealing with a reduction in revenue (not only tuition fees, but other fees attributed to campus life, accommodation, hospitality, leisure, etc.)

Should difficulties arise, as a result of students unable to gain access to courses they are paying for, resulting in dissatisfaction and potential brand damage, this could again have an impact on future student numbers as students look to avoid institutions not being able to deliver the expected levels of service they require, consequentially compounding further reductions in revenue.

In order to mitigate against this and provide an accepted level of service, a robust Identity & Access Management (IAM) solution is vital to ensuring smooth automated onboarding, appropriate and timely provisioning of access, maintaining efficiency of access, reduction of manual effort and therefore cost, all the while providing an improved user experience and self-service functionality students have come to expect in the digital age.

By implementing this type of process automation and integration, Academic Institutions can build and scale an effective and safe distance digital learning platform that will allow them to quickly adapt to any future changes to teaching methods, wherever students are in the world.

*Source: HESA 2018/2019 Consolidated statement of comprehensive income and expenditure DT031

**Averaged, across 180 Institutions from above source