3 Ways IBM is Helping UK Universities Beat Disruption

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UK Universities are amongst the best in the world, being home to four of the top 10 international universities. They are at the forefront of world-leading research which drives innovation, economic vitality and improves people’s everyday lives in all sorts of ways.

However, the competition has never been so tough for the universities and higher education providers in the UK, as they compete for the attention of prospective students across the globe. Universities, like other industries, are experiencing disruption in areas such as customer expectations, competitors and the rapid evolution of technology. Universities are under a lot of pressure to remain competitive in attracting both UK and International Students and helping these ‘consumers’ make one of the largest investments they’re likely to ever undertake.

Customer Experience

Students’ expectations are just like retail customers, they expect a personalised experience and to have access to products, or in the case of students’ course work, when and where it suits them.  Other IBM clients are re-building their business around experiences and so too must Universities.  The last best experience anyone has, becomes the minimum they expect everywhere.

Competitive Advantage

With many UK students paying for their education or taking out student loans, expectations are higher and students are shopping around for the best courses. Competition is increasing, and Universities need to have differentiators to ensure students gain employment at the end of their studies. Whether this is with industry experience, or hands on experience of real business issues, it needs to give them that competitive edge in a job interview.

Advances in technology

With emerging technology developing at an astonishing rate,  new learning providers are evolving to teach these hot topics. Many are offering short 16 week courses or Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs).  How can Universities prepare students with the skills they need to be competitive and ensure that curricula and programs keep pace with changes in industries and economies?

With all these “disruptors” in mind, Universities are under a lot of pressure to change and adapt in an uncertain environment. IBM works with schools via our apprenticeship scheme and P-Tech schools. This is to address the skills shortage in Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Cloud, IoT, and Cyber Security. IBM values the deep skills sets that come from Universities in these technology areas as well as in Data Science and Quantum.  To ensure Universities remain competitive and address the skills gap, academia and industries must work together to develop the new competences required in the future. The initial step is to provide access to technology and share industry experiences.

Ensuring Faculty Members and Students have access to the latest technology

Through the IBM Academic Initiative, universities have easy access to resources on emerging and critical technologies, empowering students to gain hands-on experience in the same tools used by industries and required for many of tomorrow’s jobs.

The IBM Academic Initiative is a self-service program that provides Students and Faculty Members access to select IBM resources at no-cost for teaching, learning and non-commercial research.  Students and Faculty Members can download IBM software, access the IBM Cloud for classroom teaching and research and services such as Watson Speech to Text.

This is opening up opportunities for faculties to develop courses that utilise IBM technology and address the growing skills gap currently experienced. One such example is the University of the Highlands and Islands who are using IBM Cloud services throughout a new 4 year Applied Software Development BSc (Hons) course.  Furthermore  projects at University College London and projects at Imperial College London are using Watson APIs to enhance their MSc projects.

Assist with the strategic vision through the Partnership Executive Program (PEP)

The IBM PEP Program involves making senior IBM Executives available to top UK Universities to work with Vice Chancellors and Deans on their long term vison and strategy. From bringing expertise on digital transformation through to supporting research activities via a collaborative approach, PEPs can help Universities address the skills gaps not only in technical and research areas but also in soft skills based on the market trends being witnessed.

Utilising IBM Experts to bring an industry and technical focus

IBM Academic Ambassadors, who are part of the IBM Volunteers Program, work across all UK Universities.  They can sit on Industry Advisory Boards, help with project ideas, mentor students, and give guest lectures, whilst supporting the PEPs. They also organise IBM events such as Master the Mainframe and Call for Code. These provide students with much needed practical experience in using IBM technologies, and the opportunity to gain Industry badges to supplement and enhance their CVs.

The future of higher education and its competitiveness will rely on the collaboration between industries and academia to create an academic environment in which students and faculties can be in touch with the market. Ultimately both working together will benefit our society. Please visit to experiment and leverage IBM resources for faculty and students.

University Programs Leader Europe, IBM Global Markets

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