Report finds universities failing to deliver

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

Universities need an urgent overhaul of their digital education practices and student experience to help their teaching staff better meet student expectations, according to a new EY report.

The report took data from more than 3,000 undergraduate and post-graduate students across eleven countries (Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the US) as well as staff focus groups and interviews with university leaders. 

High-quality teaching was ranked as the top priority for students surveyed (83% selected it as a priority) and while the amount of in-person teaching versus online learning rated low on importance, the quality of online learning ranked lowest on student satisfaction.

Students said they’d like to see investment in training teachers to deliver online learning more effectively (45%), developing better online learning materials (41%) and providing students more support with effective digital learning (40%).

Catherine Friday, EY Global Education Leader, says: “Investment in digital teaching technology has been on the to-do list of university leaders for years and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated that need dramatically; implementation timelines had to shrink from years to weeks.

“No one expects us to go back to the way things were before, but our report shows that much more investment and training is needed in order to provide students and teachers with the tools they need to operate effectively in this new world.

“These systems and practices need to be designed with the people they’ll serve in mind, rather than fitting in around existing structures. It must focus on students first and foremost, but to be successful they also need to work for faculty, researchers, administrative and support staff.

“In some cases this might be a big change, but with one-third of students saying they feel negative or neutral about their experience of university and quality of teaching being the top student priority, it is clear that this needs prioritizing. As universities around the world are also facing financial challenges, losing students because of something that universities can readily address simply doesn’t make sense.”  

New systems can help staff, but training and time required

The report shows that more needs to be done to help teaching staff focus more on their core mission of teaching, supporting students or leading research.

Focus group participants want further training in blended (online and in-person) teaching best practices in terms of both developing curricula and content for effective digital or blended learning as well as delivering teaching and learning support.

Teaching faculty and support staff need more time to embed new tools and ways of working, saying that they are spending too much time currently dealing with myriad new systems and tools, which were unintuitive, difficult to use or duplicative.

Friday says: “Technology has the potential to make the jobs of teaching faculty, researchers and administrators much easier. Replacing mass in-person lectures with high-quality self-access learning content can free up faculty to focus more on smaller in-person teaching groups or applying analytics to find and help students that are struggling and design personal intervention plans.

Greater automation of routine tasks – such as processing student applications, grading assessments or submitting research grant applications – could also free up time across the whole university workforce. However, it is vital that any new systems are designed with their users in mind and that comprehensive training is provided.

Our research showed that some staff feel that poorly implemented digital systems can feel like an addition to workloads, rather than helping staff fulfill their most important goal: delivering for students and society.”