When it comes to shoring up funding, Todd says the response is to diversify income streams: “We are now a major regional player in offering industry apprenticeships working with different economic sectors and large employers such as Rolls-Royce and tech industries.” It offers higher and degree apprenticeships including on-the-job training and academic learning and creating unique courses, such as the UK’s first Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship with Nottinghamshire Police.
“The financial return isn’t as high as a fee-paying full-time undergraduate student, so we need scale as well as quality,” Todd adds. “We have significant plans to extend this going forward.”
David Alder, chief marketing officer at the University of Plymouth, says it is working to broaden postgraduate courses. “We are making students more aware of the specialisms we offer so, if you are an English undergraduate, we highlight opportunities for post-grad study in areas such as marketing,” he says.
Plymouth describes itself as an “edgeless university”, creating an online environment where students and staff can access all content such as lectures and course materials, submit work and receive results through one online system.
Durham University has developed a fully mobile campus where students can remotely access their virtual desktops and applications and Staffordshire University has an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbot for students to provide assistance such as personalised timetable information.
Derby has developed more online courses that have proved particularly beneficial in attracting an increased number of international students.
Dave Kenworthy, director of digital services at the University of London’s CoSector, however, says these are exceptions. “Most universities recognise how essential digital is, but they are not quite there yet with development. Some see it as a threat to their traditional ways of working,” he states. “But it can attract students – such as using flexible, personalised online learning to enable Muslim students to sit their exams during Ramadan, when they feel ready. Online and distance learning can also be a way of boosting student numbers if you have limitations on physical space.”
He believes that in the future universities must accept that students will, through digital technology, no longer be tied to just one institution. “Like Uber, they will be able to buy skills, knowledge and courses from a variety of providers such as businesses, training organisations and also universities. It will all be seamlessly integrated and disaggregated. Universities which engage with this will survive longer,” he says.