University tech challenge

HSBC edtech

Andrea Dann examines how technology will transform the way education is delivered for a new generation of students

The concept of edtech was born in the 1960s as an experiment in education delivery. It has grown into a multi-billion-dollar international market, driven by a new breed of technology entrepreneurs working closely with the education community. 

Edtech has the potential to be transformative, which is why the global market continues to grow by 17 per cent per year and is expected to reach $252bn (£196bn) by 2020, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. 

In the UK, technology has a major role to play for ambitious higher education institutions, particularly in the context of mounting political pressure on universities and the ongoing debate about tuition fees. While the UK leads the way in the implementation of edtech in schools, progress has been slower in higher education. Universities need to make technology a strategic priority if they are to differentiate themselves and demonstrate the value they can offer to students. 

A new generation of students

Failing to embrace edtech will put universities at odds with the generation that is beginning to move into higher education: Generation Z. This demographic grew up with the internet and smartphones. They expect information from anywhere in the world to be available at the touch of a screen, yet most institutions were not designed to support the high bandwidth demands of modern student life.

For these new students, the traditional model of passive, lecture-based learning can seem outdated. They want an interactive educational experience, which is encouraging forward-looking universities to bring active and adaptive learning into their teaching. These innovative approaches use technology to curate and deliver a more immersive and tailored education experience. For example, artificial intelligence can provide an insight into how different students learn, creating bespoke learning plans and resources. The technology helps identify when a student is lacking confidence or struggling with concepts and adapts the teaching accordingly. This dynamic area of edtech is being led by disruptive AI solutions start-ups such as the Dublin-based Adpatemy and language-learning platforms including Memrise.

This is just the tip of a growing edtech iceberg. There are many other technologies at various stages of development which are improving student engagement and the learning experience. Many have been successful in primary and secondary education and are starting to transition to higher education. Examples include gamification, where elements of healthy competition among students are introduced through video-game-style rewards and leaderboards; as well as game-based learning, where academics use video games to promote learning in virtual worlds. In addition, virtual and augmented reality is becoming increasingly prevalent in universities through software developers such as Blippar and Touch Surgery.

Beyond teaching

These new tools and platforms can benefit teacher-student interaction, improve job satisfaction for teachers and the overall experience for students – a key metric for the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework.

However, increasing adaptation of technology will also benefit universities outside of the lecture halls. We are seeing institutions considering investments in software to improve governance and to drive efficiencies, reducing the estimated 40 per cent of academics’ time that is taken up with administration. Some universities are also looking at the positive role that technology can play in tackling topical issues such as student safety, security and well-being by monitoring behaviour or tracking how students’ devices log-in and out of university networks.

We are also seeing how technology is broadening student access through online and remote learning and the rise of massive open online courses. However, these courses struggle to compete with the broader university experience, both academically and socially. Institutions that can find a way of creating the right mix of online and campus-based teaching could be able to offer a cheaper but acceptable alternative to the current system.

No sector can escape the disruption created by the fusion of technology with our daily lives, which is defining the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This makes the growth of edtech inevitable, especially when more students demand a new way of teaching and higher education institutions compete to attract them. The challenge for these institutions is not if or when but where and how to invest in technology.

Andrea Dann is a director in HSBC’s technology sector team and works closely with fast-growing, entrepreneurial tech businesses.

Brought to you in conjunction with HSBC. Find out more about HSBC’s technology team.