Running an educational institution is a demanding task – they are organisations like no others. Highly educated staff, students, and researchers all have significant demands, which need to be met and managed to improve student satisfaction, manage the academic workload, improve research output and impact, and drive league table positioning.
IT is crucial to this work, often spread across disparate campuses, with a lot of unmanaged devices and somewhat siloed ways of working. Below, we look at some of the key challenges facing the sector.
To recruit the best staff, students and researchers, universities and colleges need to make an active investment in IT. Expectations have risen, with students’ consumerised view of IT reflecting a new digital world that ageing, legacy estates simply weren’t designed for. At the same time, many researchers are now more expert in IT than IT departments themselves, with high-performance computing (HPC) finding its way into an increasing number of domains.
Overcoming the governance challenge
Educational institutions are often unique in their structure and organisation, with highly decentralised departments and facilities rightly wanting to exert influence over IT strategy. It is a challenge to find the right balance, with a more central control framework that allows institutions to use their scale where it makes sense.
Creating a sense of urgency and a roadmap for change
While often less acute in post-92 environments, Russell Group universities can struggle to articulate the IT challenges they face – making it difficult to make the case for urgent change – and to identify where to start. The unco-ordinated, complex, risky technology estates seen today, often reflect a lack of architecture expertise.
Fragmented user journeys
Staff, students, and researchers can suffer from disjointed user experiences, which have been created through point solutions being integrated, organically over time. For example, students on joint honours programmes may have to access multiple student record systems reflecting the different departments they are studying in, or research income isn’t fully utilised because systems aren’t joined up.
Educational institutions are not specialists in the delivery of IT infrastructure, and a desire to sweat assets has led to obsolete, high-risk hosting environments, which need urgently addressing. Increasingly there is an appetite for universities and colleges to rid themselves of hosting their own services, when the cloud offers a range of possibilities – although these are not always fully understood.
HPC offers exciting possibilities for research staff and students, but demand for such technologies often outstrips supply, and environments may not have the resiliency that should be expected of research-critical infrastructure. At the same time, researchers are starting to leverage HPC cloud offerings, but often in an uncontrolled way, leading to sub-optimal investments.