6 essential areas of work for true digital transformation in Higher Education

4 min readMar 19, 2021


By Pablo Langa, Founder & Managing Partner at EDT&Partners

Similar to other industries in the past, the whole tertiary education segment has its ground-breaking open. Tier-I institutions will navigate this shift differently than the rest of the industry (if you haven’t read Prof. Scott Galloway on this topic, click here). However, for most of the 19,400 higher education institutions (HEIs) recognized by the International Association of Universities (IAU) around the world, the work ahead is uncertain and it will require a relevant shift in its engagement format and value perception.

Here is a list of 6 key areas of work. We consider 3 of them foundational, or that provide the foundation for future sustainable growth. The other 3 are more competitive in nature and aim at providing institutional differentiation.

Foundational Workstream #1 Smart, Sustainable & Social Campus

These days, a competitive HEI needs to reference a smart, tech-enabled and data-rich infrastructure that favors green and sustainable growth. Campuses can vary significantly in size from small to “city-sized”. HEIs need to rethink how they optimize their resources and the vast amount of data they produce and how that affects their objective of closing the overall GAP to reach the 2030 SDG Goals.

A smart, sustainable and social campus also needs to impact teaching & learning by promoting more informal and hybrid learning, becoming an engine for innovation and entrepreneurship, and ensuring their students’ wellbeing and safety.

Foundational Workstream #2 — Big Data & AI

An increasingly-competitive landscape requires looking further than just the core LMS and student engagement portals to leverage data for quick decision making and greater agility.

Big data and AI-enabled universities will be able to actively prevent dropouts by developing new and engaging programs and initiatives that respond quickly to market needs. They will also be able to apply AI to provide resource and experience optimization in almost real-time.

Foundational Workstream #3 — Interoperability and Cybersecurity

Interoperability and cybersecurity are often listed within the top 10 Higher Education IT issues and challenges. With ever-increasing data sources — including but not limited to biometric, financial and health information — HEIs need to set the standard for privacy and data security.

Avoiding silos of information and securing the institutional data and reputation are transitioning from issues that IT deals with to being strategic differentiators. All the systems, infrastructure and knowledge generated by a higher education institution need to be accessible in a safe format to the different constituents of the university community.

Competitive Workstream #1 — Digital (and Social) Experience

During their HE selection process, prospective students are more likely to be influenced by Instagram, Twitch or TikTok than that of a great library or institutional websites.

HEIs need to think both about the back-office and front line student experiences from the digital perspective over the entire student lifecycle. HEIs have the opportunity to transform into a lifelong capital and skills development service provider, rather than just a one-off undergraduate or graduate experience. For this, HEIs need to ensure a simple digital experience throughout the entire student journey and meet their constituents where they are most active (i.e. WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, Instagram or other social media platforms).

Competitive Workstream #2 — New Methodologies

Digital infrastructure and software investments do not guarantee a relevant teaching and learning experience or overall educational impact.

Competitive HEIs needs to be thinking about different models of engagement and competency/skills evaluation. Initiatives like virtual labs, project-based activities, AR/VR/XR experiences, global perspectives & interactions, and increased peer collaboration should be standard in all disciplines and part of a more sophisticated and relevant learner experience. In a world where online and hybrid delivery methods are crucial, this is an essential focal point for any HEI that wants to remain relevant.

Competitive Workstream #3 — Digital Competencies

It is very difficult to prepare digitally-enabled leaders of the future while a university lacks a holistic technical and digital vision.

Aspiring, impactful HEIs need to be laser-focused on teacher and staff professional development, looking beyond its walls to secure industry partnerships and interactions. Ongoing evaluation of internal capabilities and market trends should inform investments in this area. The ultimate goal should be delivering on the evolving employability and life-changing expectations that learners are placing on their higher education service providers.

This is a space to share our vision of education globally, in a personal way through our knowledgable and experienced team members, thus allowing you to imagine, inspire and improve your educational vision.

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Pablo Langa | Founder & Managing Partner at EDT Partners




We are a global purpose-driven consulting firm, dedicated to Inspire, Imagine & Improve education. We believe in Tech and Education as a drivers for change.