University fees are at an all-time high. In fact, last month’s figures published by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) highlighted that three-quarters of universities and colleges in the UK will charge £9,000 for at least one course in 2015/16 – meaning the cost of a typical three-year course will soon exceed £26,000 for the first time. So it’s not surprising students are demanding more from the experience they get at university or college.

Throw into the mix the huge pressure on students to secure a job after their studies – with figures from the Association of Graduate Recruiter (AGR) indicating there is still an average of 85 applications for every one job in the marketplace – students are quite rightly being very selective with the place they choose to study.

Along with college and universities’ entry standards and graduate prospects, students will often look at how an institution is rated when it comes to student satisfaction, and that’s where technology plays a big part. Today, many further or higher education facilities are using cloud technology to not only enhance the experience students get while studying, but also to give professors and tutors invaluable insights through data on their students to help deliver the best possible teaching in a way that best suits each individual.

Classroom in the cloud
A good example of some of the latest cloud technology in action is at London South Bank University (LSBU), which, in collaboration with IBM, is investing more than £14.8 million into providing an exceptional student experience. The university is using a mix of analytics, mobile, social and security solutions built on a cloud infrastructure to monitor academic progress of individual students.

This principal idea behind the use of cloud in education is simple – not every individual learns in the same way and one size certainly doesn’t fit all. So the cloud technology being used at LSBU is helping students engage and learn in a way that works for them – wherever, whenever and however they want to. Personalising the experience a student undergoes at LSBU can start from the very moment they decide to enrol on a course, right through to employment and lifelong learning.

To support the introduction of the programme, LSBU’s entire IT environment is moving to SoftLayer, an IBM company cloud computing platform. Adopting a cloud strategy is greatly increasing the university’s agility, enabling educators and administrators to offer new services to students at busy times at a much faster rate to manage the ever-changing performance demands of today’s digitally-connected students. In addition, by moving the infrastructure online, the space taken by the original data centres can now be transformed into additional teaching space.

Moving to the cloud allows LSBU to be interconnected and intelligent when monitoring its students’ academic progress, creating a holistic overview for every single student’s personalised learning experience. It aligns with predictive analytics, enabling the university to identify students who may require additional support with their studies, and intervene with those students to offer any help that may be needed to for student retention.

The platform also offers social collaboration for richer curriculum delivery through a personalised portal providing anywhere, anytime, any-device access to on-demand learning. On the flip-side, it provides educators with the training materials, curriculum guides, software and hardware needed to teach in-demand business and technology skills.

LSBU isn’t the only educational institution using cloud to boost student retention and satisfaction – other institutions up and down the country are also using the cloud to boost the student experience and attract prospective students. For example, Brockenhurst College is using cloud technology in collaboration with IBM and Wessex Education Shared Services (WESS) – a public sector innovation organisation – to transform the learning experience, while also shifting the focus back on their core business by utilising auxiliary functions such as finance, payroll, procurement and human resources in the cloud.

Meanwhile, Birmingham Metropolitan College is using cloud-based tools such as file sharing, web conferencing and instant messaging, to transform the learning experience and provide the ultimate ‘classroom in the cloud’ and has the capacity to accommodate more than 26,000 students based in the UK and those increasingly based oversees.

Attracting talent
Elsewhere, education institutions are looking to maximise their online presence to attract prospective students and to deliver a powerful fusion of web visitor profiles, analytics and digital marketing execution that empowers them to gather more information on prospective learners, and use it to improve their recruitment experience.

Previously, one such college had no way of tracking how prospective students interacted with its website and social media pages; the online recruitment journey ended as soon as a visitor left the College website. Thanks to its cloud technology, the college can capture all of the digital interactions of visitors as they move around its website or social media pages and fuse it with their manual interactions to provide a single view. Once a potential student leaves the website, the college can use this information to create personalised banner advertisements on other webpages that proactively reach out to entice learners back to the College’s website. The technology has predicted the College will increase its student numbers by 20%.

Cloud without limitations
Ever-changing global economic and job market trends are having a huge impact on student appetites for learning, and with higher tuition fees than ever before, students now expect a great deal more from educational institutions. As a result, to be effective, education must become more personal, engaging, and efficient than ever before.

The agility of cloud technology today holds the promise of enabling a truly personalised and exceptional educational experience, which has the potential to transform the entire education industry. With competition at an all-time high, institutions that don’t invest in innovative ways of offering new services and improving student satisfaction risk falling behind.

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