Higher education is entering a new reality. The education landscape includes emerging technologies, new online learning opportunities, funding challenges, rising costs, and shifting demographics. In this 'age of the customer', the increased availability of choices and options is also having a profound impact on how students view their education experience. Higher education institutions will need to consider not only these changes, but also the shifting priorities of their students.

Canadian universities and colleges face issues that are remarkably similar to those affecting institutions globally. Student debt is rising, and increasing costs are inevitable. Higher education institutions will need to look inward, to search for efficiencies, and at the same time look outward, to find additional sources of revenue. Institutions also face digital competition, as technological change extends across the globe. The emergence of new, non-traditional institutions that may offer more affordable online education poses a definite threat, and while Canadian institutions have not yet been impacted by this in a very significant manner, the effects of technological change on students during the current pandemic means this risk is unlikely to decrease. Will students accept these new non-traditional institutions and what they offer? Either way, traditional institutions must be ready to respond and adapt to changing ideas about what higher education looks like, and utilize their power to convene students together on campus in collaborative ways while modernizing the student experience through technology to maintain their advantage over potential disrupters.

The impact of changing demographics

As in countries across the world, Canada is experiencing an aging population, lower fertility rates, and a growing middle class, leading to a risk of decrease in the number of students. While domestic student enrollment has remained relatively stable, the number of international students has steadily increased in recent years. In light of the current disruption, the risk that some international students may choose to remain at home, and the increased number of traditional institutions globally vying for these students, Canadian institutions that have tied parts of their business model to these students will need to revisit their strategy in order to be sustainable and continue to grow.

Transforming and optimizing higher education institutions

Institutions need to decide whether they are going to transform or optimize, or perhaps adopt a hybrid model. In Canada, an institution's choices will depend on their analysis of the disruption they are currently experiencing, and how it will ultimately affect them. These institutions will need to first review their strategy, their mission and their purpose, and this will form the basis to determine their future course. While some Canadian institutions have already started down the path towards transformation, others may take a more conservative approach and will look at ways to improve what they already have in place to find greater efficiencies.

Connected Enterprise for higher education

As an enterprise-wide blueprint for digitally transforming universities and colleges, Connected Enterprise for Higher Education is a robust framework that helps deliver a seamless, consumer-centric experience. The Connected Enterprise framework helps pull the elements of these four building blocks—reviewing the strategy, mission and purpose; improving core capabilities; adopting a target operating model; and modernizing technology—through the connected lens, aligning them to the strategy that the institution has chosen. Once all these elements are lined up, technology will be critical to help implement the transformation.

KPMG International's The future of higher education in a disruptive world provides a timely and insightful analysis of the current state of the sector and maps out the 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. This research shows that 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.

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