The Golden Age of universities is passing and life is becoming tougher. Rising costs are no longer matched by a willingness of governments and students to pay for them. And yet the traditional operating model of a university cannot produce sufficient productivity gains to cover the gap.

Today’s universities are being buffeted by game-changing technology, disruptive competition from bold new online players, evolving demographics, and heightened expectations for personalised service amid spiraling tuition fees, crippling student debt and emerging doubts about higher education’s return on investment. The ‘age of the customer’ has arrived and students have higher expectations about the experience and what it will lead to.

Higher education in a disruptive world

KPMG’s The future of higher education in a disruptive world report provides a timely and insightful analysis of the current state of the higher education sector and maps out four ‘building blocks’ designed to foster innovation, competitiveness and survival in a new era. In support of this campaign, KPMG International also commissioned Forrester Consulting to survey university leaders in the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, Australia and India on their self-reported investment in eight critical consumer-centric capabilities.1 This research shows that universities are still struggling amid barriers to progress that include expertise and technology limitations, security and privacy issues, and outdated processes.

Ultimately, today’s university leaders must face critical questions requiring timely and strategic responses that will likely define their future in a hyper-competitive new world.

The eight critical capabilities

KPMG Connected Enterprise for Higher Education is a consumer-centric, enterprise-wide blueprint for digitally transforming universities. This research-based1 framework is designed to help position institutions to drive increased value and returns by intentionally designing and aligning the elements of a university to help deliver seamless, consumer-centred experiences.

1. Insight-driven strategies and actions

Sixty-nine percent of respondents had sound data analytics strategy and governance processes, but just half had the analytics tools (49 percent) and data collection and enrichment practices (49 percent) to deliver timely and accurate insights for decision-making.

2. Experience centricity by design

Most institutions said they could design student journeys (73 percent) and were co-designing learning pathways with students (69 percent), but some have more work to do to better integrate their ecosystems for education, research and knowledge exchange, with just 60 percent reporting good or excellent execution in this area.

3. Responsive operations and supply chain

Seventy-five percent or more said that operational excellence was embedded in their institution and that their service capabilities were agile, but fewer said that assets and liabilities were aligned with strategy (65 percent) or that their operational approach was driven by a clear view of demand (56 percent).

4. Aligned and empowered workforce

Decision-makers gave their institutions high marks for institutional design and governance (68 percent) as well as leadership and culture (67 percent) capabilities. However, they more critically rated their workforce strategy capabilities (59 percent) – the ability to optimise current capabilities, plan for future institution needs and develop career paths that manage and retain talent.

5. Seamless interactions and commerce

Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) rated their intake and referral management capabilities favourably, but institutions could do more to develop a clear channel strategy that promotes seamless interactions and supports omnichannel access, with just 57 percent and 48 percent, respectively, rating their execution as good or excellent.

6. Integrated partner and alliance ecosystem

Most institutions reported having a clear understanding of when to enhance their internal capabilities with those offered by partners (68 percent), but 50 percent lacked integrated partner governance to effectively engage and manage partnerships, alliances and vendors to meet stakeholder needs.

7. Innovative products and services

Most institutions were effective at understanding current and future needs (63 percent), but less-developed at outcome measurement (53 percent) and learning-planning capabilities (49 percent) mean just half were continuously monitoring and improving the quality of learning offerings.

8. Digitally enabled technology architecture

Sixty-seven percent said their digital strategy promoted a flexible, resilient and experience-centric operating model, but only about half built their capabilities on common digital platforms (54 percent) and even fewer had an enterprise architecture that they feel could support both current and future strategy objectives (43 percent).


1  A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of KPMG, February 2020.

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