Directorate for the Student Experience

SLP and beyond: how innovation will shape the future of our University

30 April 2018

Dan Perry, the SLP's Director of Business Change and Engagement, discusses below how innovation and digital trends could help shape the future of our University.


Higher Education is at an exciting (and challenging) time. There is a new and evolving environment with the creation of the Office for Students and UK Research and Innovation, and an increasing political interest both in the sector and in specific areas such as teaching and the student experience.

Higher Education is increasingly a digital and global sector and as a consequence there is increasing competition from UK and international competitors as well as new forms of education. On the student front, we are starting to see the consequences of Generation Z students with higher ‘customer-like’ expectations. Finally, we can add to this mix the impact and opportunities that come from trends in technology.

This is a world where universities cannot afford to be complacent, and here at Manchester we are well placed to meet the challenges and make the most of the opportunities. Our ability to innovate and to bring in innovation is going to be an important part of achieving success in this changing environment.

Over the past couple of weeks we have had several sessions that have started to look at innovation from different perspectives.

Firstly there was an Innovation day led by Accenture and their design and innovation agency, Fjord. This was the first of what hopefully will be a series of such days looking at potential opportunities for new solutions to support the student journey and how we work in the University.

As well as bringing the business and IT Services together as co-creating partners there were some great ideas. The topic of smart digital assistants was raised by one group, with one simple comment, “you should see what Deakin do…” leading to discovering ‘Genie’:

The other highlight came from one of our own team with the idea of pre-sessional course tasters to help students choose their courses.

The following day I spoke with the Extended Leadership Team of the DSE about three tech trends, Cloud Computing & Artificial Intelligence, The Rise of ‘Data’ & Analytics, Consumerisation & Liquid Expectations. The latter phrase was a new one to me and means that consumers, including students, academics and staff are placing similar expectations on Universities as they are on commercial experiences, so we don’t need to be as good as other Russell Group universities, our service needs to be as good as Virgin or Apple.

Each of these areas brings huge opportunities, such as the ability to improve our enquiry management by using digital assistants to give high quality, rapid answers to questions and then handing to staff for more value adding discussions, better for students and for staff. However, they also bring challenges, for example it is likely that future versions of PowerPoint use artificial intelligence to find content automatically. How do we tackle plagiarism in this new world?

In this session we looked at both the opportunities and the challenges, and in the latter two areas came out clearly, our risk-averse culture and our knowledge for what’s possible. Within DSE we will be looking at both these areas to understand how we can assist, and as an early part of this we are looking at releasing a digital discovery tool to help every member of staff gain an insight into their own digital capabilities.

Dan Perry, Director of Business Change and Engagement

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