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Universities spend $16bn each year on technology with hardly any spend going towards improving teaching and learning. Covid will change this.
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Using technology to improve how we teach and learn in higher education has often just been hype and wishful thinking. Promises of AI and adaptive learning, interactive digital textbooks, engaged learning communities, LMSs that educators and students actually love have never lived up to their expectations. A lot of investment and good intentions have often been met with at times overly complex products not informed by real user needs, but more often the realities of university bureaucracy, and educators' ability and willingness to change.

US universities spend $16bn on technology - where does all the money go?

Whilst the majority of news in higher education focuses on exciting new edtech learning solutions, the reality has been that the vast majority of university technology spend has very little to do with learning. It is mainly spent on IT services, hardware and devices, telecom services, data centres and software that helps universities operate as businesses.

Universities have only recently started to become tech enabled organisations with all the infrastructure that regular enterprises have already had for decades, including business intelligence and analytics, CRMs and cloud storage. While the education community talks about edtech, behind the curtains it is companies like Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and Salesforce that still take a lion's share of the university technology spend.

Enter Covid-19

EDTEX Customers & Universities

As the world's largest experiment in online learning has shown, once the campus lights are turn off, there is not that much that remains for the student. In the absence of peers, sports and extracurriculars students have quickly realised that education in and of itself at most universities is not a particularly stellar offering, especially when delivered online. Education stripped down to a basic video lecture on Zoom, interaction over Microsoft teams, rudimentary ebook or pre-recorded video and assignment in the LMS, will struggle to engage and excite students.

As many educators struggled to facilitate and create their own digital learning resources, the often criticised MOOC with a history of unengaging design and poor retention rates, became the quality to aspire towards. For many the MOOC in fact also became part of the solution as thousands of universities signed up to solutions like Coursera for Campus to use other universities' MOOCs to supplement their online offers.

So what happens after Covid?

EDTEX Customers & Universities

We believe Covid represents a unique moment in time for the emergence and growth of much needed solutions in the education technology space that focus on serving the learner, and not just the learning institution as a business.

The incentives are changing and universities and educators are realising that teaching is the neglected frontier of the higher education offer that needs to be radically improved and that technology is part of the solution. Competition and differentiation in the next decade will not just come through investments in campuses and marketing campaigns but through genuine improvements in teaching and learning. Technology savvy students will want to see technology enabling greater flexibilities, support and engagement at the right moment and time.

Our recent survey with partners Jisc, Universities UK and AdvanceHE highlighted that the majority of university stakeholders believes that the future of higher education post Covid is blended, combining the best of physical, digital and online. Working with leadership of more than 50 UK universities, we are on a mission this quarter to define what this blended future will look like and how technology can play a greater role promoting flexibility, better pedagogy, support and inclusiveness.

We will start publishing our insights in March. Until then if you are a higher education leader or an ambitious startup in this space and would like to inform our work - we would love to speak.

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