Published on in EducationDigital Transformation

This blog is co-authored by Geoffrey Fowler, Principal of the Royal Docks based London Design and Engineering University Technical College and Ash Merchant, Education Director Fujitsu UK&I

The world is experiencing a worrying digital skills shortage. In the UK alone, the government has published multiple reports on the talent shortage. Year-on-year studies also reveal a steady decline in executives’ confidence in graduates having enough digital skills – between 2017 to 2018, it fell by 8% to just 12%, according to Deloitte.

These concerns were part of the motivation behind London Design & Engineering University Technical College’s (LDE UTC) partnership with Fujitsu through the Education Ambassador Programme. Formed six  years ago, it continues to give  students access to cutting edge technology – something that has been severely lacking in education delivery.

Fujitsu and LDE UTC share the belief that the digital transformation of the education system is the first step in addressing the digital skills we lack as a society, especially considering the uncertain future young people today have ahead of them.

Even before the pandemic, only 52% of graduates got a graduate-level job out of university. This is paradoxical when you consider that the average age of a professional working in cybersecurity – one of the jobs with the most severe skills shortages – is 42.

In this article, we’ll share how our partnership and the digital transformation it inspired has helped improve the education experience for students and teachers alike, and put LDE UTC in an advantageous position in the wake of the pandemic.

In the process, we’ll also demonstrate why these kinds of transformations will become increasingly essential for all  learning institutions as we enter the next normal.

Making it easy to learn

The first thing to note is that the entire technological set up at LDE UTC has been geared specifically for it – the right hardware and software for the right jobs. The institution currently has core, edge, and cloud running through its infrastructure, all managed and supported by Fujitsu.

With industry-leading technologies at their fingertips, an element of ease is inserted into students and educators’ everyday life. A student working on a computer-aided design (CAD) or 3D modelling has their pick of numerous workstations set up for specific functions, as well as a state-of-the-art virtual reality lab.

All of these technologies also instil a greater level of adaptability and resilience in the LDE UTC . For example, it was in a position to deliver remote learning from day one of the lockdown – in fact, the LDE UTC has been able to deliver remote learning from the moment it opened back in 2016.

Through continuous digital transformation, we’ve managed to foster a culture of rapid innovation that enabled LDE UTC to immediately react to the crisis. And with remote learning already in place, the institution was able to begin enhancing other offerings and bring them in line with the needs of the present.

Educational resilience

One of the biggest tragedies of the lockdown has been the devastating impact it has had on young people – stifling both their education and overall development. One study estimates as many as a million young people have missed full time education because of the pandemic.

So LDE UTC did everything they could to make sure students could not only carry on learning full time, but that the entire learning experience was regeared to address the needs and concerns of both students and educators.

First, safety measures were put in place to reduce touch points – Perspex barriers were installed in common areas and hand sanitizer dispensers were deployed to every classroom, along with one-way routes all around the campus.

On the website, students can do a risk assessment and complete LDE UTC’s daily COVID declaration. The faculty even created a test-and-trace style program through Microsoft Forms which functions like the NHS’. Every day at 5pm, the daily number of COVID-19 cases on the homepage gets updated.

But what is really unique about the LDE UTC’s approach are all the ways it uses technology to convey the learning experience to remote students.

In each classroom, for instance, there are up to four cameras covering multiple vantage points, a 360-degree microphone and a visualizer. Each lesson is broadcast live to every learner and because the infrastructure is Fujitsu built, software such as Microsoft Teams runs seamlessly.

Teachers can also broadcast from home, with some even delivering lessons while self-isolating because they felt well enough. Students can also be in class and have a lesson delivered live from a teacher in their home.

Our shared goal has been to create a data-rich environment that enables stakeholders to easily access a vast amount of relevant information. Or as Ash would put it, “Knowledge is the salve to uncertainty, and when people know what you’re doing to protect them, they’re more likely to trust you.”

Case in point, around 30% of LDE staff are currently volunteering to come into campus. Convincing worried staff to come in has been something most schools have struggled with. But the data-rich environment LDE UTC  has  created has helped to dispel a lot of that fear for the faculty.

Education in the next normal

In many ways, a lot of the changes the pandemic brought about were always going to happen – the crisis just accelerated things. Whether you want to call it the digital economy or the fourth industrial revolution, the reality is, more and more businesses will move under the tech sector umbrella as data becomes increasingly more integral to success.

So, making sure the next generation of workers are as prepared as possible for this digital future is going to be integral, not just for them, but for society as a whole.

This is why early collaboration between industry and academia is so important. Fujitsu, for instance, not only helped LDE UTC digitally transform, but also influences its curriculums to keep studies as up to date as possible and ensure the right skills needed to develop the economy are being instilled.

And this philosophy also goes for teachers. At LDE UTC, there are staff led upskilling programs created to help them get up to speed with key technologies such as AI, robotics, augmented and virtual reality.

Technology is the ultimate enabling agent, but only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to successful digital transformation projects. What truly matters is how you use it to empower humankind.

And LDE UTC and Fujitsu are using technology to empower students and prepare them for an uncertain future – after all, it’s easier to predict the future when you’re helping to create it.

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