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Digital Transformation for Universities

How University Boards Are Adopting Digital Transformation

by Angelique Ofrasio on and last update on September 17, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic urged many universities to rush their digital transformation efforts. To be able to continue to operate, embracing technology is unavoidable for institutions that largely rely on enrollment rates. However, digital transformation takes time—it’s a process that can’t be rushed. How should university boards phase out digital transformation to do it effectively? 

Digital Adoption at Universities

Although numerous universities worldwide have been successful in adopting digital transformation initiatives, most are still lagging in this sphere. 

Operating on legacy technologies—and not using the value hidden in the wealth of data spread across departments, e.g., on individual websites—creates a big gap that affects the quality of education and crisis response to situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The inability to deliver online learning is a lost opportunity that can effectively hinder university operations. The appeal of online instructions is reflected well in numbers: Coursera, a popular e-learning platform, has observed a 644% increase in enrollment compared to the same period last year.

Universities need to acknowledge that online learning is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, even if the situation with the pandemic improves.

Therefore, universities have to develop strategies that take into account short- and long-term adoption of technology. 

The Challenges of Digital Transformation

The biggest challenge among the top management at universities is overcoming the mindset that technology-driven education, including remote classes, doesn’t provide as much value as its in-person equivalent.

To overcome this fear, university boards should understand that remote teaching and digital transformation doesn’t mean converting materials into PDFs.

Remote teaching is the adoption of disruptive technologies that provide students with fully immersive experiences that increase the absorption of the curriculum.

For example, implementing AI to build dedicated learning opportunities for every individual student helps provide personalized learning experiences at a fraction of the cost of traditional one-on-one teaching. AI will adjust the pace and the content of each class based on how a student is performing, thus increasing education accessibility and availability.

Augmented reality solutions can be used during, for example, medical training to let students perform procedures without doing an actual surgery, or to let them participate in more immersive classes.

Chatbots can help students get information about campus-related queries, library resources, or financial matters.

How to Deliver Quality Education Remotely

While not all degrees can be entirely pursued remotely—e.g., medicine—innovative technologies can allow students to receive quality education. However, to achieve the level of technological advancement necessary to give students quality education, a solid digital transformation strategy is key.

Read: The Digital Transformation Cheat Sheet


The first thing a university board of trustees should do to further digital transformation is to perform a thorough assessment of the existing systems. This will help map out available assets and identify areas for improvement. Getting to know the current setup also helps to ensure that new assets are compatible with the existing software.


Next, university boards should define goals for the digital transformation.

Sample goals:

  • Streamline the circulation of information
  • Improve online teaching capabilities
  • Aggregate cross-departmental data into one place for better analysis
  • Increase the quality of education during pivoting (e.g., efficiently switching to online classes during an outbreak)

Note: University boards should work closely with faculty to determine which digital transformation initiatives should be pursued to address the delivery of the curriculum.

Each of the goals will require different resources. That’s why it’s important to have work teams that can provide the expertise necessary to push changes and create strategies.


Set up a designated task force to help implement a digital transformation strategy and pursue specific goals.

An implementation task force consisting of cross-functional members lets university boards approach digital transformation holistically. 

Digital Transformation: A Key Differentiator

To increase enrollment and retain the quality of education, university boards need strategies that account for uncertainty from the pandemic. For example, be able to seamlessly pivot and turn to fully online teaching when there’s an outbreak—without compromising quality.  

Universities and faculty members need the capacity to create their own learning content, and develop an immersive content distribution framework.

Even though higher education institutions largely overcame the initial disruption caused by the pandemic, digital transformation needs to become an integral part of every university’s business strategy. Digital adoption is fundamental to strengthen the response plan and successfully navigate a crisis that upturns everyday operations.

Convene has helped universities in over 100 countries digitize their meeting and collaboration processes. With our meeting management platform, university boards and staff are able to work more efficiently and effectively. Read how we’ve worked with universities like the Queen Mary University of London here. For more information on Convene for higher education institutions, visit our website here.

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