The university experience – How AI driven networks can empower Higher Education

As this year’s crop of students embark on their higher education journey, universities are constantly looking at ways to improve their offering.

Since the beginning of 2020 universities have switched from on-campus learning to completely virtual learning environments, and now to a hybrid approach whereby some of the courses may be in person, while others will remain digital. For students, the traditional university experience has changed beyond recognition and is still in a state of flux. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that, according to research from Mind, around one in five students has a diagnosed mental health problem in what has been described as a mental health crisis. Although many factors contribute to the student experience, going forward, connectivity and networking will have an important role in shaping campus life.

To empower and engage today’s students, colleges and universities must transform outdated IT infrastructure into agile, secure service platforms powered by AI. Following the pandemic and the shift to distanced learning, universities are finally coming to grips with the power of campus networks. Beyond helping higher education institutions streamline IT operations and accelerate innovation, a modern network can improve students’ physical and emotional well-being, reduce risk and create and maintain a safer on-campus environment.

This kind of monitoring of students, devices and networks, of course, creates concern around privacy, but by taking an opt-in approach, universities can ensure that people have a clear choice, as is their right.

Intelligent campus networks in action

The University of Reading is a prime example of an institution on a multi-year journey to build an automated network, enabling innovative programmes and services.  These will drive student engagement and allow academic success, as well as supporting students individually as they head towards the world of work. Working with Juniper Networks, the University of Reading has developed an AI-driven network that can provide insights into each student’s success. Integrating location data with the university’s attendance management system could be used, in future, to reveal whether a student regularly attends class, highlighting changes in behaviour patterns that may be a cause for concern. Thereby, alerting the appropriate student support services as required.

In many sectors, technology is eliminating boundaries while making the world smaller and increasing competition, and higher education is no exception. Universities’ digital transformation plans have been altered to better fit the current education model, speeding things up or reprioritising certain projects. Universities are constantly looking for ways to entice students and the competition is only getting fiercer. This kind of support from an AI system has the power to set a university apart from its competitors and guarantee exceptional student satisfaction. Despite previously being fairly cautious regarding digital transformation and change, university IT teams can implement an effective transition management strategy to involve faculty and staff in new digital processes and allow them to adapt. The ability for campuses to digitalise and transform has a direct impact on the student experience and, in turn, future recruitment.

As campuses are returning to their pre-pandemic capacity, connectivity and network infrastructure have a significant role to play in that experience. This includes but is not limited to; making campus life easier and more secure, supporting students’ mental health and anticipating areas where digital tools may be lacking on campus. AI-driven networks can constantly improve the campus environment that so many staff and students call home.

About the Author

Jamie Pitchforth is Head of UK Strategic Business at Juniper Networks. Juniper Networks is leading the revolution in networking, making it one of the most exciting technology companies in Silicon Valley today. Since being founded by Pradeep Sindhu, Dennis Ferguson, and Bjorn Liencres nearly 20 years ago, Juniper’s sole mission has been to create innovative products and solutions that meet the growing demands of the connected world.

Featured image: ©Syda Productions

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