Tribal Group Blog

Tribal Group Blog

Higher education in 2017 - what you need to think about

Posted by Nathaniel Harvatt on January 10, 2017

This time last year we made some predictions on what we thought would happen in HE during 2016, so how did we do?


2016 saw student grants replaced with loans. The National Union of Students said the move was "disgraceful" and meant poorer students would be saddled with a lifetime of debt.

Education Managers needed to find a way of reducing costs but still operating efficiently to balance these constraints against increasing expectations. As we move forward into 2017, universities need, more than ever, a clear view of their institutions performance across a range of measures.

Student acquisition

There is evidence from the 2016 applicant data that more and more applications are being made later in the cycle. Some universities saw up to 20% of their UCAS window applications coming in the last few weeks before the January 15th deadline. More than ever during 2016 universities needed to look at streamlining their admissions process and use effective multi-channel marketing and recruitment tools, including student satisfaction as a key message. This will continue as undergraduate applications to UK universities for 2017 are over 10% down across the sector, it is important to focus on the right candidates at an early stage, including matching them to the right courses and removing barriers for applicants.

Teaching and Excellence Framework (TEF)

We predicted that the TEF would have to evolve to include better measures of a university's worth to a student in terms of engagement. During 2016 we saw the TEF take shape with key requirements around the personalisation of communication, academic support, employment and non-continuation rates all becoming measures that will determine a universities rank of Gold, Silver or Bronze.

Delivery models

2016 saw an increase in the ever-changing digital world, with technology enabling new teaching and learning methods. We anticipated that this would lead to an increase in distance learning and the creation of the virtual campus. Students have far more choice in the components that make up a qualification, and institutions can collaborate to build courses which span education sectors or cross borders. Oxford University announced the launch of their first online Mooc course starting in February 2017 with many seeing this as adding credibility to the Mooc movement. High achieving students who have been nurtured and looked after by their university will ultimately perform better.

So what can we expect in 2017?


Many fear that the brain-drain of academics will gather pace during 2017 unless the government acts quickly to guarantee the rights of current EU staff and students to remain, and secures continued access to EU research programmes. However 2017 will be the year universities finally reconcile themselves to Brexit. This will mean a more sophisticated understanding of what leaving the EU means in terms of attracting international students, and after the first recorded decline in international undergraduates in autumn 2016, the government must adopt a more welcoming approach by dropping proposals to cut student visas and removing students from net migration figures.

Universities will need to do lots of hard work to ensure they are in closer touch with their surrounding communities. Many are already reporting a downturn in applications for the 2017 cycle, with some universities facing 20% or more falls including some Russell Group institutions. This cannot be explained alone by the demographic tapering of 19-year-olds across the UK. During 2017 it will be more important than ever to focus on the right candidates at an early stage, including matching them to the right courses and removing any barriers for applicants.

Teaching and Excellence Framework (TEF)

Most people won’t notice the introduction of the new legislation following the passing of Higher Education and Research Bill – except about the Teaching Excellence Framework. The different medals (Gold, Silver or Bronze) allocated to universities and the subsequent fee increases will cause much more of a stir. The results of the TEF should be known by the summer, bringing with it the news of which universities have earned the designation of Gold, Silver or Bronze. According to the anonymised metrics published by HEFCE, only 16% of institutions currently qualify as de facto Gold. Universities will become increasingly worried about the potential impact of TEF on their reputational positioning.

New Faces

2017 is the year of new faces in HE. New chief executives and chairs at the Office for Students (OfS), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Ucas, and new directors at the Russell Group and Million Plus. Also, new city mayors in Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the West Midlands and nearly-new permanent secretaries at the Department for Education, the treasury and Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy too. All are sure to want to make their mark and change something in HE.

Digital transformation journey

Declines in retention in higher education are driving the need for a more personalised, engaging student experience to maintain enrolment. Along with changing demands on higher education institutions' requirements for student information systems (SIS) are changing. Educational institutions are already considering how they can do things better, more efficiently and in a connected way.

Gartner predict that by 2021, more than 30% of institutions will be forced to execute on a personalisation strategy to maintain student enrolment and that by 2020, one-quarter to one-third of higher education institutions will have committed to a SIS replacement project. The only way to do this is to embark on a digitalisation journey, implementing technologies both within the back end infrastructure and the lecture theatre. This will help support institutions as they adapt to a consistently evolving educational landscape.

Into the Cloud

During 2017 we will see an increasing use of hybrid-IT technology for data storage and management. This has also been encouraged due to the impending EU General Data Protection Regulations which is of concern to many higher education institutions. Taking the approach of on-premises storage and cloud technologies, universities will be able to proactively manage archiving processes and ensure compliance as well as feeling confident in the security benefits that come with a hybrid IT approach.

What do you think 2017 has in store? Join in the conversation and let us know your thoughts @tribalgroup on Twitter.
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Topics: Higher Education

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Written by Nathaniel Harvatt