Why standardisation is key to delivering a global higher education experience

There has been a revolution in the use of edtech across the UK’s higher education sector since the pandemic suddenly shifted teaching and learning online.

The experience gained through lockdowns has accelerated digital transformation in our universities and catapulted the UK’s status for delivering quality education much further across the globe as a result.

This is bourne out by the latest figures from Universities UK, which reveal that in 2020/21 162 UK universities were delivering some form of online or remote learning to more than 500,000 students located in over 225 countries. This is on top of the 30 UK-based institutions which had a physical presence overseas at the time.

With three campuses in the UK, one in Dubai and one in Malaysia, Heriot-Watt University has an established global presence too. However, unlike many universities with international campuses whose students typically stay in one place throughout the duration of their courses, we do things a little differently.

Global reach

We want our students to benefit from the broad range of skills and life experiences they can gain from a global education. So, every academic year, as part of our Go Global scheme, hundreds of Heriot-Watt’s students get the chance to transfer between our UK and overseas campuses, and vice versa, for a semester, a year or sometimes longer if their courses are taught there. Staff have similar opportunities to work in different campuses too.

Standardisation is key to the success of our campuses exchange programme. The same course content is delivered in common subjects across all locations, which means students don’t have to worry about being ahead of their peers, or having to catch up, when they arrive in their destination country.

Students sit the same assessments and exams at the same time within their subject area too, which makes the whole process of managing processes and monitoring student progress much simpler. There’s no need for teaching staff to start from scratch either as the curriculum for their subject area will already be familiar to them.

Key to the success of our campus exchange programme is the technical backbone that supports it. There are some key features of the solution that are essential to ensuring it all runs smoothly.

A single solution for multiple campuses

Standardisation of systems and processes across the University and its campuses has been critical for reducing the administrative impact and complexities of moving students and staff across the world. This allows us to then focus our resources on areas where there is a genuine need to have a different process to reflect local regulation and practice.

We have one information management system, from Ellucian, which is used in each campus. This allows staff to consistently track student movements and data on courses and student progress can be updated easily.

Having a central store for data eliminates the need for information to be requested or shared manually too. Staff can simply update and view the information they are authorised to see, whether they are based in the UK or internationally.

It also means workflows can be automated with alerts and reminders to help staff manage each stage of a transfer. We can automate much of the student experience too, sending regular reminders to students about application deadlines or keep them informed if the cultural awareness sessions we run to help ensure they know exactly what to expect when they arrive in a new destination.

With one system used across all campuses, hours of time is saved for staff and there is far less risk of anything being missed. This wouldn’t be as efficient if they were having to juggle a mountain of paper to manage students’ journey.

Reflecting the organisation’s ethos

Standard working practices and processes have been possible from a technical perspective for many years. But standardisation is not an approach that has traditionally been embraced by those working in the higher education sector as the needs of different departments can differ greatly over time.

The pandemic was a turning point that opened up a range of opportunities for universities to explore different ways of doing things. As Heriot-Watt’s experience highlights, there can be huge benefits to standardisation in higher education.

As an institution focused on delivering a university experience which offers students a world-wide perspective, having one system across campuses enables us to manage our students’ education journey efficiently, including the opportunities available through our global campus exchange programme.

We have the systems and technical foundations in place to broaden the horizons of our staff and ensure students get a rounded and diverse experience of university life. It is these experiences that truly put them ahead as they increasingly compete on a global stage for job satisfaction and career success.

About the author

Chris Pirie is a student systems manager at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. With campuses in Scotland, Dubai, and Malaysia, Heriot-Watt University has a reputation for excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering, Business, and Design

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