SCC win highlights potential in higher education

UK infrastructure reseller and IT services provider SCC has been unveiled as the winner of a £90m end user services contract with the University of Nottingham.

It is a substantial deal, and particularly so in the context of the higher education market. But there are signs in recent months that this is a sector that is increasingly ramping up its investment in software and IT infrastructure modernisation projects.

Earlier this year, the University of Manchester put out a tender for another end user services refresh deal (worth a potential £41m), which will see it deploy Windows 10 and Office365. The Open University is also looking to recruit an external partner to transform the digital experience of its students, while replacing its legacy HR, finance and student management systems with SaaS propositions.

 

It is not just a UK trend. Belgium’s KU Leuven – recently named as the world’s most innovative university – announced a deal to deploy HPE’s Genius supercomputer in order to harness AI in its research. In Spain, the University of Santiago de Compostela is one of a growing number of higher education organisations to overhaul their network infrastructure that connects students, teachers, researchers and administrators.

So what’s behind this burst of activity?

There are a number of factors. Firstly, the battle to attract new applicants is stronger than ever. The latest figures from the UK Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) found that the number of students applying to go to university this autumn has declined by 2%, due in part to a fall in the number of 18-year olds in the population.

Competition between universities has also never been tougher, with second tier players investing aggressively to develop their revenue streams by attracting bigger pipelines of both domestic and international applicants. The University of Portsmouth recently raised £100m from private investors to support expansion, while the University of Glasgow has been given the green light for a £1bn estate modernisation initiative.

Students are increasingly weighing up the overall experience provided by the university when they are making their choice and technology plays an important role. Manchester Metropolitan University is deploying a new student management system from Unit4 as part of its ambitious Student Journey Transformation Programme, which is designed to enhance student support and retention.

Another factor is that there is a changing of the guard among the IT leadership in higher education organisations. During the last five years, many universities have replaced technology function leaders from predominantly academic backgrounds with a new breed of professional CIO or digital officer that is often armed with experience from the commercial sector.

Cloud services, platform modernisation, analytics and cyber advisory services and even IoT-related services are all in growing demand. There has long been talk about the concept of a “digital campus,” but we are now seeing universities make concrete progress in laying the foundations to enable this, such as the University of Wolverhampton’s recent project with Logicalis.

All this means that the higher education sector is becoming an increasingly dynamic sector, with transformation on the agenda for both the operational and teaching/learning sides. PAC is currently undertaking research on the digital maturity and ambition of higher education organisations in Europe, as well as mapping the supplier landscape that supports them.