A wave of digitisation has swept over the university sector in the last couple of decades. The changes look set to continue apace into the future. Here’s what we think might be three of the most significant digital trends in 2020. In many cases, these digital higher education trends are already well underfoot.

More big data

Big data has been one of the big digital trends of recent years. Its potential applications in the university sector are numerous.

We might see it employed, for instance to help students. Universities in the US have begun to employ analytics to pinpoint when students might be struggling with a course. They can then intervene to help the student.

Big data can also be employed behind the scenes. It can be used to improve campus services, for instance. It can be brought to bear in efforts to increase or improve admissions. Or it could be even be used to help shape curricula and to improve student resources.

Basically, there are increasingly few reasons for universities to make decisions based on guesswork or speculation. And with entire companies existing specifically to help universities employ data analytics, we can expect to see this becoming ever more key in informing decision making.

Mobile technologies

Another pervasive trend that has affected nearly every aspect of our lives is the shift towards mobile technologies. We can expect to see the tiny computers in our pockets playing a bigger role at universities in the near future.

Again, like big data, the prospective applications of mobile technology are numerous. It can be used in course delivery, for example. Or proprietary apps might be developed to aid with the admissions process, campus news, or student orientation. California State University, Sacramento even monitors students’ mental health through its app, reaching out to those who need it.

They can also be used to aid with the collection of big data – using location services to measure footfall across campus for instance. Or, as at Purdue University, to collect student feedback.

Robotic process automation

Robotic process automation (RPA) is the automation of some of various tasks necessary to the running of an organisation. Such tasks might include high-volume processes, repetitive tasks, or digital processes, says EY.  The consultancy claims 60% of an organisation’s processes can be addressed by RPA. This frees up human talent to dedicate themselves to more complex tasks, speeds things up, and allows for efficiency savings.

In a university, it can be used for a range of functions: In the back office for financial reporting, HR, or payroll. In student-facing functions such as admissions, course scheduling, and careers services. Or in hybrid functions such as financial aid or student services.

This has taken of in a big way in Australia – in which universities come together for an annual AI and RPA conference. The University of Sydney even won an award for it…

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