13.1 As will be clear from other chapters in this report, we believe that the innovative exploitation of Communications and Information Technology (C&IT)1 holds out much promise for improving the quality, flexibility and effectiveness of higher education. The potential benefits will extend to, and affect the practice of, learning and teaching and research. C&IT is also, we argue, needed to support high quality, efficient management in higher education institutions. There is scope to reduce costs in the future and the potential is great, but implementation requires investment in terms of time, thought and resources in the short term. We say more about the possibilities afforded to management by C&IT in Chapter 15.

13.2 In Chapter 8 we have shown how the concept of the higher education experience will need to be altered radically. A growing range of higher education experiences will be offered by institutions, in providing for a more diverse student body, by tailoring learning experiences to the needs of individuals or groups of individuals. C&IT will have a central role in maintaining the quality of higher education in an era when there are likely to be continuing pressures on costs and a need to respond to an increasing demand for places in institutions. We have, however, sought to ensure that our recommendations are led by educational imperative and not by technology.

13.3 We believe that, for the majority of students, over the next ten years the delivery of some course materials and much of the organisation and communication of course arrangements will be conducted by computer. Just as most people will come to expect to be connected to, and to make use of, world communications networks in their daily lives, all students will expect continuous access to the network of the institution(s) at which they are studying, as a crucial link into the learning environment.

13.4 C&IT will overcome barriers to higher education, providing improved access and increased effectiveness, particularly in terms of lifelong learning. Physical and temporal obstacles to access for students will be overcome with the help of technology. Those from remote areas, or with work or family commitments need not be disadvantaged. Technology will also allow the particular requirements of students with disabilities to be more effectively met by institutions.

13.5 The global community, through the medium of C&IT, is already a reality for researchers. C&IT will also help the development of local research groups, linking those researchers in less well-endowed departments with their better-resourced neighbours. It will bring benefits to scholars in the arts and humanities as well as researchers in science and technology.

13.6 Researchers are already beginning to have access to major pieces of equipment and large data banks on a world-wide basis, and this is a facility they will increasingly require and expect. As the knowledge base increases in volume and sophistication, the requirement for such connections will increase. However, the need to duplicate scarce or expensive equipment and resources, including datasets, should be reduced by prudent exploitation of Communications and Information Technology (C&IT). Electronic journals serving a world-wide network of researchers will be common.

13.7 Over the next decade, higher educational services will become an internationally tradable commodity within an increasingly competitive global market. For some programmes, United Kingdom (UK) institutions will rely heavily on C&IT to teach across continents. Within the UK, by the end of the first decade of the next century, a ‘knowledge economy’2 will have developed in which institutions collaborate in the production and transmission of educational programmes and learning materials on a ‘make or buy’ basis. We must expect and encourage the development and delivery of core programmes and components of programmes, and sharing and exchange of specialist provision, to become commonplace.

13.8 The development of a world market in learning materials, based on C&IT, will provide scope to higher education institutions to become major participants in this arena. This in turn might lead to the formation of trading partnerships between institutions for the provision of infrastructure, services and content. Such partnerships could include major companies in the communications, media and publishing industries.

13.9 As in other industries and businesses, C&IT is affecting the management and administration of higher education institutions, and is assisting institutions to manage increasingly complex activities and services such as finance, personnel, admissions, time-tabling, data collection, estates management, catering and conferencing. Progress in the successful use of C&IT for these purposes has been mixed but higher education institutions should aim to improve their economy and efficiency by making more effective and extensive use of C&IT (see Chapter 15).

13.10 While the effective adoption of C&IT in higher education requires appropriate technology, adequate resources and staff development, success depends on the effective management of change. The development and implementation of an integrated C&IT strategy will be one of the main challenges facing managers of higher education institutions.

13.11 The key issues are, therefore, the materials available and the use which is made of technology. These must be addressed in order to realise our vision and are discussed in the appropriate chapters of our report in some detail. In this chapter we focus on:

  • the need for leadership through a clearly articulated C&IT strategy;
  • C&IT infrastucture.

Management, leadership and strategy
13.12 The UK enjoys a good Communications and Information Technology (C&IT) infrastructure. The content – in terms of materials and use of this infrastructure – continues to develop. The challenge to leaders in higher education will be to harness both the communications infrastructure, and the growing and developing collections of high-quality learning materials, within a management strategy capable of being responsive to the needs of staff, students and other stakeholders in higher education. Chart 13.1 shows that effective management through the development of information strategies and through programmes of training and support is at the heart of the effective use of C&IT in higher education. An effective communications and information strategy bears very directly on the success achieved by an institution in establishing itself in the nascent world market for higher education through the medium of C&IT.

13.13 Implementation of a successful C&IT strategy will require considerable expenditure as well as technological expertise and management. We believe strongly, however, that such expenditure is critical to the delivery of institutions’ missions and can only become more so in future. With the diversity of institutions of higher education, needs and levels of spending on C&IT will vary. A detailed audit has not been possible, but we estimate that the UK higher education sector currently spends between 800 million and 1 billion a year (see Table 13.1) in total on C&IT – ie up to ten per cent of total higher education turnover.

13.14 Such expenditure reflects a strong reliance by higher education institutions on sophisticated high quality Communications and Information Technology (C&IT). New developments will require new patterns of expenditure but the C&IT industry, with which we have consulted extensively, predicts that the costs of computing power and connection will fall. With such high levels of expenditure on C&IT, a major task for management in institutions will be obtaining maximum value for money from it. We note in Chapter 15 that, although there is widespread use of C&IT systems in management and administrative processes, institutions are not near to exploiting fully this potential.

13.15 The successful exploitation of C&IT will require a rethink of institutional priorities and a change of institutional culture. The leadership given by senior management will be critical. Many institutions could realise significant savings by adopting, and adhering to, a minimum sub-set of open standards for hardware and software. Adopting such standards will lead to the need for less C&IT support, less training and improved mobility of clerical, administrative and technical support staff.

13.16 A standard approach to the acquisition and delivery of electronic information (for example through an Intranet 4) is also needed. Examples would include: techniques to improve the management of the teaching and assessment process; avoiding the duplication of administrative data; computerising student admissions; and drawing together foundation and remedial teaching materials. Other opportunities for savings exist through, for example, the institution-wide use of a single smart card.

13.17 Although we do not underestimate the size of this task, we believe the existing C&IT resources could be used more effectively if institutional managers developed and implemented a coherent and comprehensive C&IT strategy. We are aware that the benefits of such an approach are often seen at the institutional level, rather than in the department which sponsors them, and this needs to be recognised.

13.18 The full exploitation of C&IT by higher education institutions in the pursuit of their missions will require senior management to take an imaginative leap. A strategy will need to embrace competition and collaboration in bringing about change. Such strategies should cover information resources, the facilitation of staff/student communication, the development (purchase or production) of learning and teaching materials and other content, and the development of effective management information systems in an integrated manner. We acknowledge that the Funding Bodies currently require institutions to have information strategies and, as part of their strategic planning process, these will form a good basis for extension to all aspects of Communications and Information Technology (C&IT), as we recommend. We therefore propose that the Funding Bodies should encourage institutional management to review their C&IT strategy, and its implementation, as a matter of urgency and importance.

Recommendation 41
We recommend that all higher education institutions in the UK should have in place overarching communications and information strategies by 1999/2000.

13.19 We believe that the creation of C&IT strategies will create a focus for debate within institutions and throughout the sector. Central initiatives can help, but they alone cannot deliver our vision of higher education for the next century. Institutions themselves must do that through ownership of their C&IT strategies.

13.20 Central initiatives such as those promoted through the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and Teaching and Learning Technology Programme (TLTP) have been instrumental in advancing the sector’s use of C&IT. However, projects initiated through central initiatives are not always carried forward when funding stops. To avoid this loss of momentum it is necessary for institutions to acquire a sense of ownership in such projects. In future, such initiatives should learn the lessons of previous schemes and focus funding on the cost-effective implementation of systems that demonstrably meet identified needs. Exit strategies, and the requirement for a financial contribution on the part of the institution, should also be considered. Thus, we believe that all centrally funded initiatives to foster the use of C&IT should incorporate strategies to secure continued development when the central funding ceases.

13.21 On our visit to the USA we were particularly impressed by the communications infrastructure developed and adopted by the Harvard Business School. This Intranet-based system of teaching and administration was established across the entire School ‘due to determined management, including at the highest level, and a dedicated and skilled implementation team.’5 We have noted that ‘a very significant element in the success of the project was due to top-down enforcement by a technically expert Dean.’6 Such a system provides an exemplar for what could be achieved in other institutions, and we are aware that many institutions in the UK are experimenting with Intranetting. The management of UK higher education institutions is less ‘top-down’ than that of many in the USA, however, and the pure Harvard Business School approach, which also relied on considerable investment, might not transfer completely to large multi-faculty UK institutions. We suggest that the funding bodies consider funding five or six projects in institutions, aimed at capitalising fully on Intranet capabilities, with a view to disseminating advice to the rest of the sector. The proposed Millennium Information and Communication Technology Fund might be a source of additional funding for these pilots.

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