Today's students are demanding an educational experience that is flexible, personalized and real-time.
They're adopting a consumer-minded approach to education, are shopping around for universities that offer a modern and technologically seamless experience and are much more able to air their views online.
In this era of higher transparency and customer experience, a new survey released this month in Australia has discovered that students' expectations of their university experience and the technology supporting it, are even higher than institutions might have imagined.
The study, which was carried out by TechnologyOne, surveyed over 1,000 students about their learning preferences, university's technology innovation and their levels of commitment or loyalty to educational institutions.
The survey is important in the context of today's students as they are evaluating the quality of university experiences in more depth, have much greater access to reviews of institution services and expect digital technology to provide a seamless experience.
The findings reveal that universities need to work even harder to build relationships with students by delivering a compelling student experience through technology.
A damning impression of the university's current technology
The study found that a large proportion of students are currently underwhelmed by the levels of digital innovation undertaken by the universities they attend.
And perhaps more importantly, they expect the entire experience to be digitized, from initial enrolment all the way through their studies and beyond into alumni years.
The research also found that a third of students classed their university's current technology innovation as functional but 'uninspired', while 10% judged the technology used on their courses to be either non-existent, outdated or ineffective.
The appeal of on-demand education
The latest generation of students are used to consuming information on the go, and on-demand. Netflix for entertainment, Google for search, Airbnb to find a unique holiday experience, Apple to get a round-up of news and Alexa to check the weather, to name just a few.
This survey found that students entering higher education want to take the immediacy of on-demand services into the learning environment, with 87% of students stating they want to be able to access all of their course content anywhere, any time, and on any device.
Access to information anywhere at any time is the new norm. And for institutions without that capability, students are going elsewhere or finding workarounds to create the experience they want.
Students favor a blended approach to education
When asked about learning structures and the preferred way to attend university, half of the respondents in the survey said they favored a blended learning experience, combining on-campus education with online learning.
Interestingly, only half of the respondents who are studying purely on-campus currently stated that they preferred this learning approach, favoring instead an online or hybrid learning experience, which suggests that some universities will have to adapt rapidly if they are to be effective in delivering the education experience their students want.
88% of students also stated they wanted a consistent student experience across all course touchpoints and interactions.
Today's students are more transient
When students were asked in the survey if they would consider switching universities for an institution with better use of technology and higher levels of innovation, over half said yes.
Half of the students surveyed also stated that they would attend multiple universities at one time if units could be combined under a single degree, which suggests they are much less brand loyal than previous generations and are more interested in the specific education experience they receive and the value of the outcomes they get from their degree.
The new customer experience mindset in higher education
Prospective students are now much more likely to visit review sites and student satisfaction surveys to evaluate the quality of institutions than previous generations. In the UK, universities also legally have to publish official satisfaction statistics for each course on their website.
And students who are already underway with their studies are much more willing to share their experiences online (both positive and negative) and can amplify these views across digital channels incredibly effectively.
The findings from this latest research may be seen as an opportunity for some institutions, and by others a wake-up call, in this period characterized by greater transparency and higher expectations.
Leadership teams in universities who understand the connection between digital capability and student experience will benefit most from the dynamic changes they can bring to adapt to the trends revealed in this survey.
The bar has been raised for higher education institutions, and customer-focused efforts will win the day.
What is your university doing to create a more student-centered customer experience? We'd love to hear.