Resilience in a world of remote working

Resilience in a world of remote working - how can higher education institutions ensure business continuity and stay connected?

Key takeaways

  • Institutions are starting to see how digital solutions can aid business continuity
  • Prolonged disruption causes a range of problems, and makes academic continuity increasingly difficult – what is the solution?
  • Building a resilient network – universities now rely on digital software

The world has experienced pandemics, epidemics and disasters over the years; responding to a crisis isn’t a new experience for many higher education institutions.

From the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic that claimed the lives of 500 million people (CDC), to Hurricane Maria in 2017, higher education institutions have put countless emergency response teams together in a bid to minimise future disruption and prepare for the unexpected.

However, gaps in business continuity plans were uncovered when coronavirus came into the public’s consciousness at the beginning of 2020. Governments all over the world put lockdown measures in place, which meant higher education institutions were tasked with moving their resources, processes and practices online, overnight. As a result, their crisis response teams were pushed to the limit, and many fractures in their day-to-day operations were revealed.

In fact, senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Goldie Blumenstyk, suggested that coronavirus looks like it could be a ‘black swan’ moment for higher ed. A ‘black swan’ event is characterised by its extreme rarity and catastrophic impact, and COVID-19 was arguably the catalyst for many institutions having to devise a digital transformation strategy overnight.

There were blanket cancellations of in-person lessons, many university admissions funnels grinded to a halt and institutions had to transition from working onsite to remote working in a short space of time. In doing this, institutions were able to see the benefits that come with implementing digital solutions specifically designed for higher education.

Blumenstyk writes, “It seems safe to say that this will be not only enormously disruptive but also paradigm changing. The “black swan,” that unforeseen event that changes everything, is upon us.”

A sudden glimpse into the future

Additionally, this ‘black swan’ event has brought many underlying historical problems to light that can no longer be ignored. From admissions and enrollment challenges to limited resources and communications issues, every aspect of how the higher education landscape operates is under scrutiny, and institutions are starting to see how digital solutions can aid business continuity.

It’s also giving students and faculty a glimpse of what the future of higher education could look like, with remote working becoming second nature, and digitalisation at the core of every interaction. A recent report by McKinsey reinforces this notion stating that, “COVID-19 crisis seemingly provides a sudden glimpse into a future world, one in which digital has become central to every interaction, forcing both organizations and individuals further up the adoption curve almost overnight.”

For Oregon State University Foundation, they were able to pivot and adapt when the order for remote work came down. With cloud systems immediately available, their employees were up and running from their home offices within days.

Such fast action enabled the Foundation to establish the Beavers Care Initiative to assist students affected by COVID-19 and support the university in securing philanthropic funding for research and outreach solutions related to the pandemic.

Academic continuity

Universities and colleges take pride in being able to deliver the services that their students, staff and faculty depend on, but prolonged disruption causes a range of problems, and makes academic continuity increasingly difficult.

From frustrated students who are unable to finish their degrees, to financial and unemployment problems and academic planning, coronavirus is threatening the reputation and finances of each institution.

As a result, there’s the risk of disengaged students no longer enrolling due to the disruption with academic and financial services. If enrollment numbers fall, there’s a real possibility that the future of public higher education is in danger, as half of the revenue comes from student tuition.

The University of Louisiana Monroe knew just how important it was for them to keep admissions and enrollment figures steady during COVID-19. At the start of the pandemic, they knew that the repercussions of COVID-19 would have a profound impact on how they operate and decided to put preventative measures in place.

In order to protect their enrollment pipeline and ensure a smooth transition as the team began to work from home, they launched a one-month initiative to waive application fees using their CRM (customer relationship management) system to set-up the promotion, track applicants, and create and send emails. #FreeAppApril, promoted via traditional and social media channels, more than doubled the number of applications compared to the same period last year.

Building a resilient network in a time of crisis

In order to minimise disruption and ensure business continuity, universities are relying on digital software such as CRM systems, student information systems, video conferencing applications and more. This couldn’t be done without the cloud because it can’t be interrupted by anything, be it a power outage or a national emergency. This rapid transformation has given institutions that were once apprehensive about technology the confidence to use digital tools day-to-day.

However, colleges and universities need to do more to build a resilient network that not only ensures business continuity, but keeps staff and students connected during challenging times. Previously, we talked about the importance of creating a data-driven and more collaborative culture within higher education , and this plays a key part in creating an effective academic continuity plan.

When faculty, staff and students are willing to collaborate and embrace change, the institution as a whole becomes more agile, meaning continuity plans will evolve along with the educational ecosystem. This, in turn, will help institutional leaders establish a global understanding of essential services within the institution.

So, whatever the future holds, having the right technology that can evolve alongside the institution itselft as it grows is crucial. Ellucian is committed to actively monitoring and responding to higher education trends, innovations, and challenges, meaning that we are well positioned to innovate and evolve to meet our customers’ changing needs. We’re here to help you grow, together.

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