Home | Policy & Reform | It’s time: Watch the Australian education sector race towards a cloud delivery model

It’s time: Watch the Australian education sector race towards a cloud delivery model

After almost a decade of sluggish shuffling towards a cloud-based, digitally driven operating model, Australian education providers are collectively twigging to the benefits that can accrue from giving students and staff real-time access to information and services.

Chief among these is the ability to keep pace with the competition in the delivery of relevant, high quality courseware and a rich ‘user experience’ for students, regardless of whether they choose to study on campus, remotely or a combination of the two.

This has become a growing challenge, even for Australia’s ‘sandstone universities’, which have historically found it easy enough to attract students thanks to the prestige they enjoy and their stellar reputations for research.

Across the developed world, education has evolved into a user-pays experience targeted at an increasingly discerning clientele. Value for money and a superior student experience are not just appreciated but expected and 'users’ are voting with their feet and wallets.

At the same time, funding is being squeezed, with institutions being asked to jump through hurdles and find cost savings. Attracting and retaining students has become an urgent economic imperative.

Against this backdrop, digital transformation and across-the-board uptake of cloud technology is more than a clever idea. For many institutions, it will be integral to their long-term viability.

Big business

The health of Australia’s education sector isn’t only a concern for individual providers. The country’s higher education institutions make a significant contribution to the country’s economic prosperity.

Universities employ more than 100,000 staff and service more than one million enrolled students. This figure includes the 500,000-plus international students who’ve collectively made international education Australia’s largest service export.

Education providers also contribute to the financial health of the communities where they’re based. In regional areas in particular, the presence of a sizeable institution can provide employment opportunities and boost the local economy.

Keeping the customer satisfied

When they think about learning, today’s millennial cohort of students don’t think chalk and talk. They’ve come of age in the apps era and they want and expect a learner-centred experience. That includes flexible services, constant access to learning resources, including video presentations, and the ability to submit materials online from anywhere.

In the past, meeting this shopping list of demands would have called for crippling capital and operational expenditure – on large facilities, cumbersome paper-based learning collateral and hard-driving hogging programs to enhance collaboration.

Not so with cloud infrastructure. Embracing a digital as-a-service model allows institutions to deliver this content and these resources safely and securely, campus-wide, on any number of devices, in real time.

One UK university reported shaving 6.4 million pounds a year from its capital budget as a result of its decision to decommission its ageing data centre and migrate its entire suite of applications to the cloud.

Coupled with the embrace of automation, which can free administrative staff from the burden of completing repetitive, low cognition tasks, it’s a development that is making it possible for institutions do more – and what’s more, to do it better – with less.

Suits you – the power of a tailored learning experience

Students don’t just want their courses to be flexible and accessible. They want institutions to employ pedagogical models and methodologies that are consistent with the way they like to learn. Increasingly, this is via rich multi-media experiences that incorporate the use of interactive video conferencing.

Meanwhile, significant improvements in telecommunications infrastructure and technology have made online and remotely delivered courses the equal of their classroom-based alternatives, not the ‘poor cousins’ they were perceived to be a decade or two ago. As a result, institutions are increasingly being called upon to offer a blended learning experience for students, instead of the either/or choice they faced in the past.

Cloud infrastructure makes possible the flexible and economical delivery of applications to students whether they’re based on campus or off site.

The technology also provides a solid foundation for the roll-out of data analytics tools that can provide institutions with unprecedented levels of insight into their ‘products’ and ‘clients’.

It’s these insights that can enable them to transform the student experience by tailoring courses and coursework to meet individual educational needs instead of delivering a one-size-fits-all offering.

Time to act

The past decade has seen conversations about the merits of cloud technology rapidly supplanted by strategies and action plans for its implementation, across Australia’s public and private sectors. Some educational institutions have been slow to the cloud party but they now have much to gain from getting with the program.

Conversely, in today’s increasingly competitive race to attract and retain students and funding, they have just as much to lose by not making the technology integral to their infrastructure and service delivery.

Peter Croft is APAC managing director at Tribal Group.

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