Reinventing, not just recreating, the learning experience

Reinventing, not just recreating, the learning experience

Industry experts Safi Obeidullah and Neil Pearson discussed how COVID has transformed higher education and the future of EdTech on Day 2 of the Victorian Global EdTech and Innovation Expo 2021.

During the second day of the Victorian Global EdTech and Innovation Expo 2021, three EdTech experts explored the major changes to higher education and education technology brought on by COVID. 

They addressed how to create a cohesive hybrid education model after the pandemic, how international students are adapting to the new way of learning, the future of international student recruitment and EdTech, and more. 

Grainne Oates, founder and CEO of Quitch, moderated. She was joined by two panellists:

  • Safi Obeidullah, Field CTO, Citrix
  • Neil Pearson, Chief Digital Marketing Officer, IDP Education

Here are the highlights of the session followed by the full transcript.

How to create a cohesive hybrid education model post COVID

According to Safi Obeidullah:

  • The pandemic forced universities to put a solution together quickly which was probably not ideal. Now that remote learning is here to stay, we need to look at those solutions and make sure they’re designed to set students up for success.
  • The starting point is to ensure the learning experience for remote and on-campus students is equal. It can’t be substandard for remote students.
  • We also have to consider how we can stimulate collaboration and social interaction as they are major components of the university experience and remote students can be disadvantaged. One option is to organise social activities through a remote platform.

How universities have changed the way they recruit international students during COVID

Neil Pearson says IDP Education approached this in several ways:

  • They organised virtual events on a large scale because they couldn’t meet in person – 60,000 students participated in Q3 alone last year.
  • They set up virtual counselling to give students access to the same one-on-one service they would normally get in person.
  • They released a Study Abroad app to help students wherever they are in their journey – from finding university recommendations in their research phase to getting up-to-date status changes during their application phase. It’s been downloaded 100,000 times and counting.
  • They quickly created an online tool called the IELTS Indicator to assess students’ English language skills when they couldn’t take the in-person IELTS English Language Test. 
  • They’re currently working on using technology to improve all the changes they made and the tools they created. They want to reinvent rather than just recreate them.
“Everyone around the world was pulling miracles operationally [last year] but standing back some of those experiences weren’t as brilliant as they could be. Some of them were about recreating experiences just to keep the lights on rather than using technology to fundamentally reinvent them. What we should be doing with technology is making things better than they are. Universities and other [organisations] are now thinking about how we reinvent those experiences.”
Neil Pearson, IDP Education

How COVID will affect the speed of uptake of EdTech in universities

According to Safi Obeidullah, Australian universities will continue to adopt EdTech at a rapid rate because:

  • Those that are more progressive and adopt these new technologies will have a competitive advantage when it comes to building a broader student base.

How international students’ perceptions have changed throughout COVID

Neil Pearson says IDP has been sending out a survey to 4000 or 5000 students each quarter since the beginning of COVID and they’ve found that: 

  • International students are consistently clear about the fact that they want to study in-country to get the full experience. They still want the hybrid approach to education, but they want to go study abroad so they can have the full cultural experience.
  • They’re willing to be flexible and start online (44% are willing to study online for the first three months), but they want to be able to go abroad eventually.
  • Students are also increasingly happy to quarantine and even take on the financial burden of quarantining.
  • A much bigger proportion of students are also willing to be counselled virtually since COVID.
“[International students] understand this isn’t going to go away and they’re willing to sacrifice a huge amount to make sure their dreams can be realised.”
Neil Pearson, IDP Education

Security implications surrounding the rapid adoption of new technologies

When it comes to security, Safi Obeidullah believes that:

  • With students now studying from home on unprotected networks and educational institutions storing their data in clouds, there are more security risks.
  • Universities are forced to shift their way of thinking about security. Zero Trust is a relatively new security concept where trust isn’t implicit even inside the university perimeters. Trust must be earnt on an ongoing basis.
  • Citrix has been helping educational institutions and other organisations work securely from anywhere for many years.

Will the price point of education change with an online model?

Safi Obeidullah says it’s an interesting question because:

  • There’s been a lot of debate about whether students are overpaying for remote learning, especially in countries such as the US where the price of tertiary education is high.
  • Time will tell whether students will expect costs to drop for remote learning and universities respond to that or whether universities have to invest more in technology and the costs remain the same.
“There’s a lot of debate around, ‘I’m paying $100,000 a year for a Zoom call.’”
Safi Obeidullah, Citrix

Students’ adaptability in the face of change

Neil Pearson says that one of IDP’s survey findings that surprised him was:

  • Half the students with applications for Australian and New Zealand universities, 53% and 59% respectively, were considering switching to another destination if they could start on campus sooner. It was a clear message to Australia to think about how to keep university doors open.
“Students [will] go where they’re welcomed and where they have opportunity to be global citizens.”
Neil Pearson, IDP Education
Victorian Global EdTech & Innovation Expo - Neil Pearson Day 2 PM Session

The types of tech solutions universities should invest in

Safi Obeidullah believes that:

  • The main focus should be on creating a consistent experience for students whether they’re online or on campus.
  • Security should be considered at the beginning, so it’s integrated and almost invisible. If you think about it at the end, it will be intrusive and a roadblock to learning.
  • There should be one platform – or “student workspace” – where students have access to all the different resources they need with one username and password.
  • Universities should also invest in the right collaboration tools, such as digital whiteboards.
“If you lead with the student experience and the interaction they have with technology… that’s where the investment needs to start.”
Safi Obeidullah, Citrix

The future of international student recruitment and the role technology will play

According to Neil Pearson, the next few years will be interesting because:

  • Technology is reaching maturity in many areas and there will continue to be big, exciting changes.
  • A mindset shift is occurring whereby students are increasingly willing to put their trust in a virtual model.
  • Many processes will be automated, such as scanning documents, which will make the recruitment process much easier.
  • Any new technologies must be able to deliver on a large scale. 
  • We also need to accept that there will always be a human element to student recruitment. 
“There will be a huge amount of change [that] will be really positive. We’re going to drive a lot more convenience and great customer experiences for our students, but equally I don’t think we can forget the humanity and the trust that needs to be part of what we build.”
Neil Pearson, IDP Education

The future of EdTech after COVID

Neil Pearson believes that it comes down to reinventing rather than recreating experiences. For example:

  • Virtual events can become global and involve the best institutions and experts on a specific topic instead of being small and localised.

According to Safi Obeidullah:

  • COVID has reminded us of the importance of human interaction and we need to put people at the forefront of every initiative – whether it’s technology, a process change or a new campus.
“We have to start by asking, ‘How is this going to impact people and the way they learn, study and work?’ That’s the biggest [lesson] we’ve seen come out of this experience.”
Safi Obeidullah, Citrix
 
Victorian Global EdTech & Innovation Expo - Safi Obeidullah Day 2 PM Session

Full Transcript

David:

This leads onto the session, our thought leadership session. During this time, we’re going to hear from some sector leaders discussing reinventing, not just recreating the learning experience. Grainne Oates will be our moderator and I introduced her briefly, but let me give you a full introduction to her. Grainne is an entrepreneur and award winning educator. She is the CEO and founder of Quitch, a content neutral gamified mobile learning platform. She’s a passionate educator and driven to improve learning outcomes for students. Over to you Grainne.

Grainne Oates:

Thank you so much, David. And I’m delighted to be here this evening and very excited to talk to these two very interesting speakers that are going to join us. So I have prepared quite a few questions that I’m also looking forward to speaking with. So firstly, just to give you a little more insight of what we’re going to talk about today, we’re really going to focus on re-inventing and not just recreating the recruitment and the learning experience for our students. So we know, and I certainly, as an educator and many academics across the world will agree with me here, that domestic university students we’ve seen, they’ve been looking to attend lectures, but attend really in a hybrid format. Looking at that we can see that, and that’s been the case for a very long time, but the pandemic, of course, has forced that on every student and therefore we would want to look at remote solutions.

We now really have the opportunity to not just reinvent, but to recreate the way that we deliver education and indeed, the way that we recruit our students. So we’re going to examine some of the current expectations of our domestic and international university students. And we’re also going to look at exploring how the digital technologies that we have today, how these can be integrated with the physical campus to give the students the best possible experience. And we know, of course COVID, the pandemic has really pushed us along perhaps faster than many of universities were thinking about going, but I think that’s probably a really positive thing.

So what I’d like to do at this stage is to invite our speakers who are on the panel today, to join us. So Neil and Safi, I’m looking forward to speaking with you both today. So hi Safi how are you today?

Safi Obeidullah:

Good thanks.

Grainne Oates:

Great. Thank you. And Neil, how are you? Neil, we can’t hear you there. Can you just make sure that you’re … I couldn’t hear-

Neil Pearson:

Sorry, yeah, I was pressing the button the wrong way.

Grainne Oates:

That’s okay. Just want to make sure you’re with us. So Safi and Neil, I’m going to get you to do a bit of an introduction, both about your companies, but also about yourselves and some of the research you’ve done and a bit of a bio, so the audience can understand a bit of your background before I launch into some questions. So Safi might start with you this evening.

Safi Obeidullah:

Sure. Thank you. So my name is Safi Obeidullah. I’m a field CTO at Citrix. Citrix is a company that has been around for over 30 years and really we’ve focused on enabling people to work from anywhere. And work I say from a corporate perspective, but equally we work with a lot of education institutions, be it primarily universities, but also K to 12 institutions as well around the world, to really help students access the resources, the IT resources they need to learn from anywhere. And we’ve got a lot of existing customers here in Australia, be it in Sydney or Adelaide or Melbourne as well, and really pleased to be here on this panel.

Grainne Oates:

Great. Thank you very much, Safi, great to have you here. And Neil, I’ll jump across to you now. And if you could introduce yourself and also IDP and what you guys do.

Neil Pearson:

Yeah, listen, thanks very much for inviting me to the stage today, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for your time. My name is Neil person. I’m the chief digital marketing officer here at IDP Education, based here in Melbourne. And if you don’t know IDP very well, we’re one of the largest recruiter of students globally around the world for international study. And we’re also co-owners of the IELTS English language test, along with the British council [inaudible 00:04:18] education, delivering the English language tests around the world for global citizens to migrate and study abroad.

So here, I guess today, part of my role is to represent international students. I’m certainly not a futurist and I’m not sure anyone should have a job in futurism given the last 12, 24 months, but I’ve been working in education and technology for [inaudible 00:04:42] years. So given that top of the funnel experience where we’re saying student placement and the IELTS English language test going, hopefully I can provide a bit of a unique view about what we see student opinion is feeling right now and what they’re looking to do. And also where we think technology can play a key role, particularly in recruitment.

Grainne Oates:

Great Neil, well, we look forward to hearing more in detail as we work through our session this afternoon. So Safi, I might start with you. And some of the things I’ve been looking at, and we know that there has been a preference for a change to that hybrid model, if you like, of delivery. And if we look at it, I think that the research tells us about half of the population of students have been wanting that hybrid model for some time. Can I ask you, how do you feel or how can you recommend we nurture and create a cohesive experience in terms of post COVID, to deliver in a hybrid way? What are some of the things you would suggest?

Safi Obeidullah:

Yeah, I think for me, the place to start actually is make sure that the learning experience for remote and on-campus students is equal. Because what you don’t want to do is disadvantage people who are remote and provide them with a substandard experience or they can’t access all the resources that they need to complete their units of study. So I would say if you’re going about designing what that cohesive experience looks like, start with that in mind.

I think a lot of institutions, both education and in the workplace, had to quickly respond to the pandemic and the lockdown and put some sort of solution together, probably not the ideal solution. And so now as we go back and recognize that remote learning, as with remote working, is here to stay, then I think it’s important that we go back and look at the solutions we have in place and make sure we established and designed them in a way to set people up for success. And so for me, it starts with that, making sure it’s equal. I think the other thing to keep in mind is how do you stimulate a collaboration and that’s socially interaction as well?

It’s one thing to provide all the IT resources and documents and all those different things are easy enough to do. But one of the biggest things about the university or learning experience is sharing and collaborating with other people and students. And how do you make sure that happens in an equivalent fashion and again, not disadvantaging anyone who’s on campus versus remote. And in some cases you may need to create opportunities for social interaction and people to actually mix. So it’s not just about attending a class or a tutorial, it could be for more social activities that are done through a remote platform.

Grainne Oates:

Thanks Safi, for that. I think that’s a really important point to make about that collaboration and sharing and make sure that either the remote or the student on campus is not disadvantaged. So we’ll come back to discuss that perhaps in more detail a little later. And Neil, I’ll ask you a question next. So in terms of that international student recruitment, how has your organization, so how has IDP helped universities to reinvent the way they recruit international students during COVID? What change, what changes did you see on the ground and what can you recommend for us?

Neil Pearson:

Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot in that. I’ll give it a go. I mean, certainly everyone overused the word pivoted and did a lot there. Probably it was really scrambling around a lot and really just trying to make things work. So that’s that point about recreating. I think we stood up around the world, virtual events, we didn’t have people working in our offices. We couldn’t have universities coming to see us all around the world. So obviously we stood up virtual events at scale. So 60,000 students in Q3 alone last financial year, which has grown and grown. We set up virtual counseling, so the ability for anyone, wherever they were, to be able to have an experience where they could speak to a counselor and get the one to one service that they would expect wherever they were around the world.

But we’re not alone at IDP as any other business at that point in time, we were all just trying to get the lights on or keep them on. I think everyone around the world was pulling miracles operationally, but standing back and looking back at the year, we’ve now a little bit more time, I think we can all admit that some of those experiences weren’t as brilliant as they could be. Some of them were really recreating those experiences just to keep the lights on, rather than really using technology to fundamentally reinvent them. So what we should be doing with technology is obviously just making those things better than they are. And I think obviously whilst we were trying to get the lights on, we didn’t really have time to think of those experiences, as Safi alluded to as well. So what we did alongside that, and I think this is very much a work in progress, and I think [inaudible 00:09:43] universities and other people here today, will be thinking about how we reinvent those experiences.

So whether that’s virtual events or virtual counseling, how are they now going to be different this year with technology, to make them much more personal, convenient and changing experiences that aren’t the same as they were. So we started on that to some extent last year. So in terms of how IDP helped, as well as keeping the lights on, we released an app, a study abroad app that allowed students wherever they were in the journey, whether it’s very on early in the research, they could get recommendations or whether it’s through their application journey, they got up to date status changes of exactly where they were and contextual advice. If you like, it was a IDP or a counselor in your pocket, during that time. Since launch last year, that’s over 100,000 downloads and it’s gathering pace as we go.

So building a lot of momentum there, and certainly there’s an audience and appetite for that omni channel experience. So we’ve moved from physical and some digital presences, now if you’re on the app, if you come and walk in, you’re getting the same experience. And I think that’s where a lot of businesses will be heading. The other thing we did with IELTS English language tests, we have the ability to take an indicator of how you’re doing in an online test. We stood that up really quickly because many people around the world just couldn’t take the English language test in test centers. So that product is called ELS indicator. So a lot of support going forward, but I guess the theme is once we stood those up, now we’re beginning to evolve those experiences and make them fundamentally better than it was probably pre COVID.

Grainne Oates:

Yeah. And I think Neil, that’s an important point you’re talking about, that we don’t just recreate, but that we reinvent and we really have an opportunity to do that at this point. I also like how you talk about the consistency of that experience. That’s, I think, critically important to our students as well. So we’ll come back and we’ll talk some more about that a little later. Safi, I’m going to come back to you for the moment. And as we could see around Australia, the pandemic had led really to this rapid development of ed tech across the sector. And in terms of, I’m interested in your view here, do you believe the success of these kinds of rapid updates, if you like, will inspire universities across Australia or globally indeed, to continue moving in leaps rather than the baby steps we’ve seen in the past?

Safi Obeidullah:

I think so. I think while this pandemic and lockdown, obviously is not a good situation, it has spurred innovation. And we’ve seen that in the workplace, we’re seeing it in education institutions, in all walks of life, where people are putting aside the way things were done and really looking at how do they create more adaptive and more agile business models. And in the case of education, it’s equally important as well. While we do have lots of educational institutions in Australia, there is some level of competition between them as well. And one of the things we’re starting to see is that the organizations, and I think Neil touched on it before, that are more agile and progressive and are adopting these new technologies, new ways of delivering courses and engaging with students, they’re going to find themselves at a competitive advantage when it comes to, I guess, building a much broader student base.

Grainne Oates:

Yeah. I think that’s critically important to step out that broader student base. And Neil, continuing on from that, have you found that the perception of international students has changed throughout COVID? And I’m interested in particular about, I mean, what are some of the trends, what are some of the limitations, what are some of the consideration that the sector, as you found, needs to be mindful of? What kind of insights can you offer us there?

Neil Pearson:

We’ve been running a survey from the beginning of COVID, we’ve been doing it every quarter. So we call it crossroads survey. That’s going out to about 4,000 four or 5,000 students each time. So we got a really good picture of how the opinions are changing as we understand this crisis more each time. What’s been completely consistent during this time, and the student voice is really clear on this, is that international students, when they’re obviously outside of the country, want to study in country. They are willing, they want the full cream experience, if you like, they want to taste the food, they want to go to meet friends, the cultural experiences, they want to be part of that class that Safi’s also talking about that.

That doesn’t take away from some of the points the Safi is making, is that when they’re in country, obviously I think they’re modern young, global citizens. They want the blended flexible experience in the classroom that Safi’s speaking to. But certainly when they’re outside of the country in question, they want to have that full experience of learning, they want to study abroad. I think when you talk about changing perceptions, that’s been consistent. What has changed? They are willing to start online, so there’s been increasing understanding that during this, there has to be some sacrifices made. But that’s still only to the tune of about 44% willing to study online for the first three months of a course and 33 are still unsure. And a very, very small tail are willing to do more. Obviously that varies a bit for course, if you’re going to do a one year MBA in London, you’re not going to want to do any online, but if you’re doing a three year undergraduate, then you’ve got a little bit more flex, and we see opinions being a bit more balanced there.

They are increasingly happy to quarantine and take on the burden, sometimes financially, obviously also for their time, of understanding this isn’t going to go away and they’re willing to sacrifice a huge amount to make sure their dreams can be realized. One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed, so that’s part of that international student view of them wanting to migrate or live and study abroad. One of the things that we’ve noticed when we asked students, when they first get in touch with us, is how they prefer to be counseled. And since COVID, that’s gone up to 54%, are comfortable with being counseled virtually. And that is a huge difference from wherever it was pre COVID, where you’d have seen students travel two or three hours, they’ll have a physical touch point at least once or twice with their counselor. And what a fundamental shift in mindset, we shouldn’t underestimate that. And that’s why I think I feel we’re going to be living through, the next 12 or 36 months are going to be most exciting time in education and in student recruitment and [inaudible 00:16:34].

Grainne Oates:

Yeah. I tend to agree with you there, Neil, I think, and it is an exciting time and it’s a great opportunity for us to be creative and actually come up with solutions that really work for the students. So totally agree there. Safi, I’ve got a couple of questions about security implications. So from the perspective of, I guess, the institution, the staff and the students, what kind of security applications have you seen that have arisen from this really rapid deployment of these new technologies into the universities? And I guess, how have you guys in the organization, helped institutions to navigate that? If you could give us some information on that, would be really helpful.

Safi Obeidullah:

So I think one of the things that has happened with this rapid uptake of technology and the technology is going in a very distributed nature. If you think about it, students are moving from the security perimeter of the campus, on IT controlled networks, and IT controlled computer labs, to working from home on their home networks. So that opens up, unfortunately, some more security risks. At the same time, more and more education institutions are starting to use cloud technologies. They’re taking their applications and their data, they’d sit in protected data centers and moving them into the cloud. So we’re seeing a real distribution of not just applications and data, but also people as well, and that presents new and different security risks.

And so we’re seeing organizations really need to have a paradigm shift in terms of how they think about security. In the old days, being able to control everything and have that secure perimeter around your network, around your data center, no longer applies because everyone and everything they need to access is actually outside of it. So one of the things we’re starting to see a lot of momentum on, both in the workplace and with education institutions, is the concept of zero trust. I mean, it’s a relatively new methodology when it comes to security, where trust is not implicit, it’s earned and it’s earned on an ongoing basis. So that’s one methodology we’re seeing, that’s gaining a lot of momentum.

Outside of that, from a Citrix perspective, we’ve been helping education institutions for a long time, deliver secure access to applications in data. Be it on campus, be it delivering services to the students own device and enabling them to use their own device to access course resources and course specific applications, as well as being able to support secure remote learning as well. So we’ve been able to help a lot of people in a lot of organizations, really embrace a secure way of working from anywhere

Grainne Oates:

Yes. Okay. Really interesting. And on that Safi, I’ll ask you another question. We’ve got actually some questions in the Q and A, so please feel free everybody to pop your questions in here. But I’ll ask you one that’s popped up here, Safi, and that’s, will the price points change as a result of an online model?

Safi Obeidullah:

Is that price point of learning, of the courses?

Grainne Oates:

Price point of learning is I’m guessing what the person means.

Safi Obeidullah:

I think it’s an interesting question, because there’s a lot of debate happening, I see in the US where the price of tertiary education is quite high. And if you look through social media and a lot of articles, there’s just a lot of debate around, I’m paying $100,000 a year for a Zoom call. And so I think that’s an interesting debate. I mean, again, if I contrast it with the workplace, there’s questions being asked there around, should the salary change if my worker is now permanently working remotely as well. So I think this is one of the things that’s going to be interesting to see over the coming 12, 24 months, around how adapting to this new way of studying may impact the expectations that students have around costs, but equally, if organizations have to invest more in technology to support that, is that balanced out. And I think it’s going to be interesting for each organization to make a call either way.

Grainne Oates:

Yeah. I tend to agree. And Neil, I’ll ask you, there’s a question here, what surprised you from a student resilience perspective, that has sparked something new to think about?

Neil Pearson:

I mean, quite a lot. I mean, I think something worth highlighting, certainly that I think I found, I guess you could say expected it, but was quite shocking from the last survey that we ran, and I’ll focus on Australia and New Zealand for these figures, but they’re broadly similar globally, is that half the students with applications for Australia and New Zealand universities, 53% and 59% respectively, were considering to switch to another destination if they can start on campus sooner. So I mean, that’s a message to us to make sure that we try and think about how we keep our doors open. In a way it’s not a tremendous surprise, it’s a bit startling given that they’re on that application journey and they’re looking to go that far.

But I mean, I think what’s always been true is that students are determined to pursue their dream. And that’s rung true here and they’ll continue to go where they’re welcome, and when they’re able to have the ability to pay back that huge investment with post-study work rights or whatever. So if there happens to be a president in the US who’s not very palatable for four years, well then Canada seems to get the benefit from that, but net migration stays the same. The students will go where they’re welcomed and where they have opportunity to be global citizens. So I guess it’s not surprising, but it’s quite startling how willing students were there, to be able to change that model.

Grainne Oates:

Yeah. Yeah. So they’re a resilient lot.

Neil Pearson:

Yeah.

Grainne Oates:

I guess we know that about students, it’s a big deal to travel and do all of that in a new culture, in a new city. So yeah, not surprising they’re resilient in many ways, but had to be much more resilient in the last 12 months. Safi, I’m going to come back to you again. And one of the things I was thinking about is in order to prepare for both, and we can look at this, there’s some major opportunities let’s face it, coming our way, also of course, major challenges. And we’ve hopefully, in some way, come through some of those challenges, but also they’ll of course continue into the future. What technology and solutions do you think should education institutions be investing in at this point and thinking about?

Safi Obeidullah:

That’s probably, how long is a piece of string. It’s very broad. I mean, I think if I go back to that notion of how do I create a consistent experience for the students, let’s start with that, from an end-user perspective. I think that’s where you need to start because the stuff on the backend, the applications or services, they can be shifted and moved in time. If it needs to go to the cloud or you need to transition to a different application. Buy if you lead with the student experience and the interaction that they have with technology, I think that that’s where the investment needs to start with.

So some of the things I would see as a priority is ensuring, from a security perspective, that you’re thinking about security at the forefront. If you think about security at the end, you’ll end up becoming a barrier to students being productive because it’s intrusive, it just becomes a roadblock almost. Whereas if you think about it from the beginning, it’s integrated and almost invisible. So security is one. You need a platform to deliver access to all the resources students need, applications, content, data, all those different resources should be available in one unified workspace. And we have this concept called a digital workspace. And so if you can imagine where students don’t have to go to three different websites and two different systems, they go to one place with one username and password and they log in and everything they need access to is all in one place.

So I think that notion of a student workspace is really important, which gives a pretty secure and unified way to work. And then the other thing would be, is investing in the right collaboration tools. And this one you need to think about, because it’s not just about making a Zoom call available or anything like that. It’s a bit bigger than that because collaboration is also things like using perhaps digital whiteboards. As your workshop [inaudible 00:25:16] there’s a lot of tools out there like Miro, for example, which really brings that white boarding experience that people often have to do when they’re doing a group work, for example, or in tutorials, into a much more online experience, which is actually more collaborative because you’ve got more capabilities as well. So I would say as much as there’s a ton of options from a backend perspective, I would say, start with the student experience and making sure that that is sound and consistent, whether they’re remote or on campus.

Grainne Oates:

Yeah. So focus on that student experience. Safi, I’m going to keep you there because I think you’re the right person to answer the next question. So we have a question from one of the attendees, when you are in a hybrid model, you’re trying to ensure equity. How do you ensure that students who study online are able to collaborate and connect, when some students are face to face?

Safi Obeidullah:

And that, as I mentioned, when we talked about the first point, is critical, is how do you do that? When you’re in a classroom and you’ve got a portion of the students there and the others are online, how do you join the dots, so to speak. And that’s where you have to standardize on platforms. I mean, you may get scenarios where the people that are on campus, in a classroom, are still using the same online tools as people remotely, and almost forcing that. And as a lecturer or a tutor, if you’re interacting with students, don’t put a bias on the people there, again, use that same online platform to call out people and those people could be on campus or remote.

So I think it’s actually, while the technologies are there to create these collaborative experiences, I actually think it’s more of a behavior thing. And having that in mind that I’m not just talking to the people in the room, as you do if you’re in the office in a meeting room, for example, you just really interact with the people in the room, you’ve got almost force yourself to over-rotate that interaction with the person remote. Now, I think it’s a force of habit thing, and I think it’s definitely something that if you’re mindful of it, you can make that shift.

Grainne Oates:

Yeah. And I think it is about being mindful of it, is exactly right. And perhaps not as easy to deliver on because we have those biases and we’re used to delivering in a certain way. But I think what you say is absolutely right. And Neil, I’m going to ask you about the future of international student recruitment. What do you think that will look like, and what role do you see technology playing in that? How do you think it would change in the future?

Neil Pearson:

As I said, I think this is going to be a phenomenally interesting 36 months, I think, wherever side of where Safi and I sit, it’s going to be a huge change. There’s two reasons for that. Obviously I think technology is reaching a maturity in certain areas, where it’s possible to do these things better than you would before. So whether it’s some of the things Safi is talking about he’s doing with Citrix, or whether it’s blockchain for digital certification, or just being able to have a really, really good virtual experience, where you’ve got 10 people in the room and counseling and building a platform where you’ve got a community of institutions and students and counselors at one point in time, that’s possible now, and their experiences can be good. But that’s probably been a little bit pre COVID as well.

I think the other thing that’s flipping on to that, is the mindset. So that point that students now are perhaps willing to put their trust in something that’s virtual, a little bit more than they might have beforehand. So I think those two things together are coming together, the tech maturity and the mind shift. And that’s going to change in terms of recruitment or education at large, from what I can see, I mean, there’s going to be a whole scheme of pieces of the customer journey that are going to be automated, process automation in terms of that operational efficiency. So the scanning and reading of documents using AI, it’s quite a laborious process in some cases right now, the ability to understand what’s a forgery and what’s not, the ability to be able to read that really, really quickly, so you can understand if a parent has a certain amount of money in their bank account for a certain period of time.

All that kind of stuff that’s done manually right now, how is that going to be automated? And we know that universities are going to have to do more with less, for certainly the foreseeable future. So I mean, that theme of process automation is going to come thick and fast for universities and for large agents. From a virtual recruitment point of view, or student recruitment point of view, I think, yes, we’re going to see a lot of transformation. And I’m sure there’s many providers that will speak these last few days on some of those areas. I think there’s two things that we need to bear in mind with those.

And one is making sure that those players have scale, I think it’s really important, you’ve got to be able to drive scale. If an institution needs to integrate with the system, they’re not going to be able to do it for something that’s delivering 10 finalizations or 10 applications a month, it needs to be at scale. And that’s an important thing that I think we need to deliver as providers to universities. And the other thing is not to forget the trust. Safi’s hinted and talked about that blend and that human experience and that equity, I mean, that’s equally important from a student recruitment point of view. So I’m a technologist, as I said, I do not believe that there’s an AI that that’s good enough yet to recommend to an individual, truly what is the best course for them to take in the best country in the world. It’s not there yet.

And I think that the decision is high stakes, it’s not just a massive financial decision, it’s determining their future. And I think we’ve just got to have the concept to where technology can really automate, make convenient, blend, but we can’t forget the human factor in it. I think if it’s all solely down to a robot, I think we’re misunderstanding the stakes in this decision. So I mean, there’s going to be a huge amount of shift and change, and it’s going to be really positive and we’re going to drive a lot more convenience and great customer experiences for our students, but equally, I don’t think we can forget the humanity and the trust that needs to be part of what we build. And in that way, it’s very similar to what Safi’s talking to, you need to have that trust in the room.

Grainne Oates:

And Neil, yeah, sorry to interrupt Neil, but on that, do you think these tech solutions, will they likely to remain post COVID?

Neil Pearson:

Yes, I do. I think the ones that are evolving, to this theme. If for example, our virtual events experience simply carries on in that pivoting model and that keeping the lights on and that recreating, no, I don’t think it works. Those kinds of experiences that people are working on, if they remain the same as they were last year, they won’t. But if we’re really looking to evolve those experiences using thinking, actually, what can a virtual event experience be like, rather than trying to recreate this in a location, I’m going to have a global event, but it’s not for everyone, it’s just for everyone who’s interested in robotics. And I’m going to have the best institutions and I’m going to have the best students there and the best counselors who are experts in that, and I’m going to bring them all together and they’re going to have just … So imagine almost an always on live student event.

And I think these sorts of experiences are actually, yeah, I want to be part of that. That sounds interesting. That sounds really cool. If I’m interested in robotics, I’m going to be there. So it’s those sorts of things, I mean, where, yeah, it’s the reinvention, is the theme of what we’re talking about today.

Grainne Oates:

That’s right. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I agree. And Neil, you mentioned there about that human connection and Safi, I’ll bring you into the conversation here. And I guess it’s about that realization of that need for the human connection. And I guess a bit of a re-evaluation has occurred on how technology can enable human connection. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?

Safi Obeidullah:

Yeah, sure. Look, I mean, I think one of the biggest things out of COVID that we’ve seen from the research that we’ve done as well, and as much as new technology has come into the play, is that people have been reminded about how important it is to be human. It goes on exactly what Neil said, I think that human interaction, the seeing someone face to face and not on video, being able to communicate and collaborate and socialize, be it to study, for fun, or for work, it’s really reinvigorated the point that there’s people behind all of this. It’s not just a student with a number or an employee who’s trying to do some work, it’s people. And we need to put people at the forefront of any initiative that we’re thinking about. Be it technology, a process change, a new campus, whatever it may be, we’ve got to start with the people, how is this going to impact people and the way they learn, the way they studY, the way they work, all those types of things. And that’s the biggest thing for me that we’ve seen come out of this experience.

Grainne Oates:

Yeah. I would agree with you there as well. Neil, on that, I mean, everyone reordered, if you like, the learning experience over the last year, but there’s really now a change in the mindset of how people want to use technology. And I guess what we’re looking at there, is the experience, we would say, needs to be re-imagined to match the altered interests and priorities of both the students, but also the institutions. Do you think there’s many things that in hindsight, that really worked well, that we would like to continue to maintain? And I guess overall, I’m saying, do you think there’s a lot of things that worked well, or do you think there’s a lot of opportunity here for us to recreate or reinvent, I should say?

Neil Pearson:

As Safi said, the organizations that are agile and working quickly, aren’t staying where they are with any of their solutions, they’re standing up right now, certainly we wouldn’t be and I wouldn’t expect Safi to either, and other organizations that will be panelists today, will be doing the same. But yeah, definitely there was some really good seeds, I think that mindset we can appropriate now and understand how to make those experiences stronger. As I said, even just the ability to be able to now have, for example, from my selfish point of view, IDP, if you like, in the pocket of 100,000 students, so I’m able to communicate to them about their latest status. And if they go and walk into an office, they’re getting exactly the same experience and their counselor is completely up to date. That’s brilliant.

So if we’re starting to stitch together that across all those physical and digital touchpoints, to become, and it’s thrown around a lot this word, a truly omni-channel business, then I mean, there are fantastic seeds that have been sown, I think, in many universities and certainly in many businesses like ourselves. That’s great, we just got built on that and actually do what technology is really good at and making it an awesome fun, or fun as it can be given that you got this huge barrier that you want to study abroad for your dreams, quick, the answers and the ability to get an understanding of the application process and whether universities are going to say no, or yes, and how long that takes. That’s not a modern, convenient, quick variance right now.

So how do we begin to unpack that and make that a much more the experience that one would expect when one tracks a parcel, when one is ordering something and understands the status of something, not these black boxes that sit perhaps behind a closed door, where a professors making decision. How do we try and bring some of this out into a more transparent and open and quick process? So there’s principles, convenience that we have everywhere else in other verticals, that have never happened in education student recruitment, are beginning to seem possible.

Grainne Oates:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), absolutely.

David:

That’s a nice segue for me, there’s a little pause there. Now I can jump in there and I can say, that has made an amazing and fascinating conversation. I liked the idea that we begin with the student in mind, we start to build the technology, we integrate them, we create new connections, and now we’ve solved all the world’s problems in 25 minutes. What more is there for us left to do. Neil, Safi, Grainne, thank you so very much for your insight. It’s been a great pleasure to hear your thoughts. Thank you.

Neil Pearson:

Thanks.