THE positive economic impact of the University of Winchester cannot be underestimated, but should we be worried about its future?

Leo Hanna, UK Executive Vice President of TechnologyOne, talks about why universities play a crucial role in attracting talent, supporting businesses to grow, and delivering technologies and skills for new industries to flourish.

In the case of Winchester, the university contributes more than £266m to the regional economy annually and is a major local employer, with more than 700 staff. It also contributes close to 10,000 jobs a year in the local economy. Yet its future isn’t guaranteed.

UK universities are in crisis – four in 10 forecast a deficit and universities are predicted to lose more than £17bn in real income over the next four years.

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The level of financial pressure on the sector is increasing as the tuition fees for domestic students, capped at £9,250 since 2017, have failed to keep up with the pace of inflation.

Universities have no room for error when it comes to spending decisions. Something has got to give, and universities cannot afford for that to be the quality of education, support services or the overall university experience for their students. Many universities are run on ageing IT systems, no longer fit for purpose, causing huge inefficiencies and presenting compliance and risk problems.

The latest data from UCAS shows that UK university applications are down for the third year in a row, and the trend of declining international applications, largely as a result of government policy changes compounds the problem. International students account for roughly a fifth of UK universities’ income, up from a tenth a decade ago. Any drop in international student applications is bad news for the University of Winchester, where international students from 50 countries make up around seven per cent of the student population.   

Technology will play a vital role in helping universities to both attract and retain students. Most students of today are digital natives and have elevated expectations of the technological capabilities of their university.

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Hannah Watson, 22, graduated from the University of Winchester two years ago with a BA (Honours) in English Literature with English Language. She said: “Like all of my friends who went to uni, I was very used to doing everything online – banking, shopping, booking tickets, ordering takeaways, etc. But that wasn't the experience I had during my time studying at Winchester. It would definitely have made our lives a lot easier if we could have accessed timetables and other resources on our phones and even sort out our accommodation that way. Everything felt so analogue, even compared to our school experiences.”

Hampshire Chronicle: Hannah WatsonHannah Watson (Image: Contributed)

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Student maintenance loans have failed to keep up with the rising cost of living, and seven in 10 UK students have considered dropping out of university with the cost of living as the leading reason. Juggling work commitments alongside studies marks a new normal as, for the first time on record, more university students are engaged in paid employment than not.

Proactive universities are increasingly turning to smart technology for solutions to identify and intervene when students face challenges – be it financial or emotional – to minimise attrition rates and ensure student success.

Digital transformation projects require significant investment and resources. But smart investments such as these will be crucial in helping universities find savings, better serve students and offer the way forward to future-proof the stability and success of universities such as the University of Winchester.

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