South Africa’s universities are transforming their offerings to be future-ready, according to Altron Systems Integration. The company has surveyed the state of digital transformation in higher education institutions in South Africa and identifies how institutions are changing.

Universities and colleges are heavily reliant on government funding. But they face rising costs of providing education while fees and grants remain under pressure. They need to attract new students, optimize costs and find new revenue streams in order to be sustainable. As an example, earlier this year, the University of Cape Town announced a new virtual high school, extending its brand into school education and leveraging the scale remote learning affords.

“Higher education institutions are rising to the innovation challenge. They are looking for ways to sustain the quality of teaching, be more student-focused, and stretch their funding. It’s clear that future-focused universities are those that respond to what’s happening now and adjust their offerings to meet today’s pressures. This is where a digital transformation roadmap will help them succeed,” said Chad Baker , MD of Altron Systems Integration.

While every institution faces different pressures and will have their own roadmap, in the next three to five years universities are likely to offer a hybrid model that combines remote learning with in-person courses and offer greater personalization to students. Data-driven decision-making can help spot early warning signs for student performance and identify where additional support may be needed – improving overall performance ratios and the student experience. Automation and AI help funds go further, by reducing the need for manual processes.

There are five key ways in which technology is transforming higher education, listed below. These act as levers for universities to shift their operations towards greater digitisation.

1. Virtual labs
Virtual labs allow students to conduct experiments in real-time even when they can’t access a physical lab. Experiments can be run from anywhere, on any device at any time. Reducing the need for students to go to physical labs not only saves time and money, but also creates opportunities where there were none before.

2. Smart campus
Smart buildings, rooms, parking, and operations centres help students and staff move more efficiently and conveniently around campus, while improving resource management and security. With so much invested in physical infrastructure, investing in smart campus technology increases the reach and usefulness of physical campus infrastructure.

3. Data Management
Improved data management can help universities increase student enrolment and improve the student experience. They will retain more students and see more students completing courses. Especially with learning becoming a live-long journey, using data to understand the needs of prospects, current students and alumni is critical to match what universities can offer to the needs of students and the market out there.

4. Artificial intelligence and automation
Universities can use these tools to streamline and a range of back office functions and improve the student experience, for instance through chatbots. The payoffs are cost optimisation, efficiency and error reduction, and enhanced student experience. Automation is crucial to free up human time to spend on more important tasks rather than less value-adding administrative tasks.

5. Workload placement
Modernised applications and portfolio management help universities assign resources where it’s most needed. This requires an understanding of the application needs in order for optimal placement, whether on-premises or in cloud. A bespoke view is more sustainable in the medium to long term.

Altron Systems Integration partners with customers to address challenges and leverage trends by integrating current systems and processes with new solutions aligned to business outcomes.


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