The Higher Education sector in Asia Pacific has evolved tremendously in the past two decades. With a varied landscape across the region, coupled with a diverse set of policies, syllabus and socio-economical contexts, the industry has come a long way in meeting the needs of the twenty-first century student body.
However, with the current economic climate and a backdrop of cost cutting, education institutions regionally, and across the world, are under more pressure to ensure high levels of student satisfaction, successful outcomes and competitiveness on a global scale.
The higher education market has always been one of change, but these pressures plus rapid growth in student populations are driving intense re-evaluation of people, programmes, partners and services that will transform the market unlike anything before. With global student enrolment anticipated to rise from 99 million to 414 million by 2030, students clearly will realise the benefit of this re-examination and revitalisation of high quality, effective education models and systems.
These evolving changes ultimately mean that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are facing new and huge challenges that simply did not register five years ago.
The keyword is competition. The pool of limited available funding for students and research to meet budget requirements is gathering pace. Wading into this already fraught situation are private enterprises, international institutions and MOOCs (massively open online course), hence HEIs should not be tweaking their approach; they should be considering a metamorphosis.
Action is needed to address these issues in the education sector. Wholesale changes to business operations and culture are required in a sector that has been thrust from assured funding to knee-knocking self-sufficiency. However, herein lies the inescapable problem on campus that for many will halt change - impenetrable and inflexible back-office systems.
Organic growth of manual systems has penetrated the redbrick, concrete and glass atriums of HEIs to an extent where they cannot be disregarded further. Many institutions are also missing out on a valuable opportunity - to identify and explore valuable data being collected by various departments on old and standalone systems.
Even before the current challenges, this presented many tactical and strategic issues for organisations that laboured to provide accurate and timely information to students, academics, suppliers, partners, employees and regulators. Back-office systems may be viewed as a 'cost-centre', but they have a significant impact on the institution and beyond - from suppliers to students.
Take a theoretical example of an institution that given greater competition wants to change its strategy to be better at customer service. In recognition of students who value the ability to interact with their education provider as he/she would with their bank or retailer, this institution wishes to introduce an online branded portal where students can manage finances, accommodation, modules and timetables on any device at their convenience. With a scattered back-office system implementing this, an improved customer service strategy becomes a mammoth and expensive task, if not impossible. Information from across functions must be connected and standardised, presenting considerable technical problems for spread-sheet and paper-based systems.
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