Welcome to Area 4: Economic and Political Change

INTRODUCTION

Education has never existed in a vacuum, it is an integral aspect of society and subject to the ebbs and flows of economic and political change. While institutions including Higher Education Institutions strive hard to ensure they put in place robust structures that can ensure continuity and stability, they are just as vulnerable to the winds of change as every other structure, system and service in society. In the past, the idea that a university represented stability and continuity for a particular type of formal education was almost sacrosanct – university reputation was very much tied up in tradition and the value of the accreditation that one held was as much to do with the name of the accrediting university or college as the content of the programme. 

Much of this situation has changed, brought about by a combination of factors. Well before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020, expectations of our higher education institutions had changed dramatically. As early as the 1990’s, the term transformation began to appear when talking about universities and while there was less emphasis back then on the role of digital technologies in this transformation, there were already calls to make higher education much more accessible and open, in keeping with the demands of society. The success of the Open University movement dating back to the 1960’s is testament to the demand for change, see Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education  written by Sir John Daniel and published by Kogan Page in 1996 to understand how the demand for change in HEIs was already common place. 

This demand is even more widespread today. Governments, international organisations, employers, social partners – all are asking for a higher education system that is more accessible, digitally literate, accountable and open. See for example the Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) published by the European Commission which highlights a number of ways in which all educational institutions including HEIs can ensure their own digital transformation in keeping with the changing world in which we all find ourselves. 

This has meant that HEIs regardless of their size or background are coping with a myriad of challenges as they move to adjust to the demands of 21st centre learning. The need to remain relevant, to take into account the digital transformation that is underway across all aspects of society, the demand for accountability and transparency all need to be taken into account, putting pressure on how HEIs are led, managed and evaluated.  

The first of the modules in this section on how to analyse costs deals with sustainability and funding when it comes to putting in place the infrastructure to support the digital transformation. Putting in place and maintaining a suitable technical infrastructure is a challenging task, involving not only senior management staff but also academic and support staff in a bid to ensure the infrastructure is suitable, flexible, cost-efficient and rigorous. In this module, you can read more about the drivers affecting how digital transformation is taking place as well as some of the practical steps you will need to consider in your efforts to ensure a suitable digital environment in your institution. 

The second module addresses the next logical step in the HEI digital transformation process by considering how to get nearer the work market by tackling the topic of  digital talent. On the one hand HEIs need to attract the appropriate levels of digital talent to their human resources and at the same time, they need to consider how digitally competent their student output is in both specific areas of need as well as more generally as well as how ready they are to meet the high demand for digital talent in the general workforce.  In this module you will read more about recommended recruitment practices for attracting and retaining digital talent in your workforce. Such practices often mean an adjustment not only to traditional recruitment practices but also a reconsideration of how staffing in general is managed, recognised and supported. 

The third module on how to tackle digital capital or poverty in Higher Education deals with the other side of making digital transformation a reality and that is of course by focusing on the needs of students. In order for a digital infrastructure to be effective, then students need to have the skills and resources to access all online tools, resources and support that they need. In this module you will discover how to make such access a reality. Beginning by putting in place the means by which students can access the necessary hardware that they need, it also considers connectivity and other aspects that play a role in students’ digital engagement in all aspects of student life both on and off campus.