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Transformation in Irish Higher Education: Enabling services for the universities of tomorrow

The EduCampus SeminarTransformation in Higher Education: Enabling services for the universities of tomorrowtook place in the Dublin Convention Center (CCD) on Wednesday 11thMarch 2020. 

The event was opened by Dr Joseph Ryan who welcomed the guest speakers, attendees and set the scene for the seminar.  Fionnuala Lambert moderated the session with presentations from Paddy Naughton, and four guest speakers who provided invaluable insights and an international (UK and Canada) perspective.

EduCampus Brochure
  1. Enabling Landscape Change in Higher Education in Ireland: The Technological Universities Research Network Report, (TURN, 2019) – Professor Philp Gummett, Chair, TURN Working Group
  2. Building Transparency and Understanding in Shared Decision-Making Processes. Brad MacIsaac, Registrar & Assistant Vice-President Planning & Analysis, Ontario Tech University, Canada
  3. Transformational Change – Adapt and Adopt; Kate Williams, Programme Director Oracle Cloud Implementation, University of Birmingham, UK; Charlotte Wellington, Core Programme Leader, University of Birmingham, UK
  4. Empowering Transformation in Irish Higher Education; Paddy Naughton, CEO EduCampus

The panel discussion reflected on the speaker presentations and included active participation from the audience. This session was moderated by Billy Bennet (LyIT) and it included questions submitted by the audience using SLIDO.

Professor Philip Gummett outlined the findings in the TURN report and the first recommendation which addressed the need for advanced digital infrastructure to support the transformation in the HE sector.  Brad MacIsaac (Ontario Tech) provided insights from Canada and lessons learned from the merger to form Ontario Tech University.

He reported that transformation involved significant cultural and organisational changes which requires allocation of sufficient time and careful planning to ensure success. Charlotte Wellington and Kate Williams provided a case study from the University of Birmingham.

They found that strong leadership and a project champion were key to ensuring buy-in from all stakeholders.  Also, careful planning in advance was critical to prevent the need for upgrades or amendments during the implementation which could cause delays or loss of trust from key stakeholders. Furthermore, at the start of their programme, they surveyed all staff and found that IT literacy would be a barrier because 40% of respondents considered their digital literacy skills were at/below elementary level.

A multi-channel training programme was implemented across campus, focused on stakeholder engagement.  The advance training and information sessions were critical for stakeholder buy-in and for the success of the campus-wide digital transformation programme.

Paddy Naughton presented an overview of EduCampus and showed how they have been assiduous in setting up an agile procurement process for the higher education sector, informed by individuals from the sector.  In the past, software systems were seen as an enabler, now they are so complex they cannot be peripheral; instead, they must be central and strategically supported. Furthermore, digital systems offer potential inherent collaborative support for transformation in the HE sector.

The panel discussion was robust and included active participation from the audience. All agreed that digital transformation in the HE requires strong leadership and it cannot be done in isolation but instead, requires a systematic and coherent approach. The emerging COVID-19 challenges requires everyone to move towards digital transformation by delivering classes remotely and developing contingency plans.

As a national emergency, it requires cooperation from all stakeholders (e.g. trade unions, students).  It has exposed vulnerabilities but should not be an opportunistic approach to force change.   In closing, Joe Ryan provided a summary of the key points from the seminar and panel discussion.