There's huge potential for transformation in higher education right now and CGI member Carwyn Cook is exploring the many ways digital can improve the sector. In this new careers article, he speaks about his work and reflects on his enjoyment of working with a great team of people and how rewarding it is to see the difference they are making to people’s lives together. 

September 2023

As Vice President Consulting Expert at CGI, I enjoy working with our clients in the South and Midlands to define their digital strategy. I love to work closely with our clients to understand each organisation’s goals and how it works, and explore how technology can improve its outcomes.

One of my biggest motivations is seeing how the work we do can make a real difference in people’s lives. This is especially true in areas like health, public services, and education, which is a particularly exciting field for me. CGI has a lot of experience working in digital partnerships with clients, and we're seeing a lot more interest in this now from the higher education sector. Digital is completely transformative in any industry, and higher education is an area where it’s acting as a driver of change as well as an enabler of it.

Solving some of higher education’s greatest challenges

There is so much potential for transformation in higher education. Financial concerns are top of mind when considering the sector’s challenges and how we can solve them with digital. We're several years into a freeze on UK tuition fees, and international student numbers have been impacted by events such as Covid and Brexit. Universities are trying hard to fill as many places as possible in order to maximise their income.

Obviously, a university's reputation affects the number of students who apply. Its league table ranking is heavily influenced by student experience and academic success, so if you want to attract students and importantly, keep them there for the duration of their degree, you have to provide the right resources. This is where technology plays an important role.

Firstly, student experience can be improved by better access to digital services. This includes  decent WiFi access, end user devices, student apps and learning and teaching environments that support different learning styles. Hybrid and flexible delivery of course content is key. In addition, there is increasing interest in continuing professional development and micro-credentials, so technology platforms that support their delivery can bring in a broader range of learners, and therefore, more revenue.

On the 'cost' side of the equation, universities are looking for efficiencies in the ways they deliver IT services. We’re working with clients to enable them to tap into a shared service model that will reduce costs while also improving the quality of service. This is a valuable step because it helps them to mitigate two of the other common challenges we hear a lot about within the sector: technical debt resulting from historic under-investment in IT, and difficulties attracting and retaining skilled IT staff.

Embracing evolving technologies 

The South and Midlands business unit is part of our 'metro model', based on the idea of CGI members living and working in the same communities as our clients wherever possible. There's a great team spirit with a willingness to share knowledge and help each other out. We're fortunate to have a range of industry experience and technical capability within the team, so we can apply innovation from one industry to other sectors.

CGI invests heavily in a lot of the latest emerging tech like AI, and I’m enjoying exploring how we can integrate it into our higher education solutions. We’re utilising tools like intelligent automation, generative AI, natural language processing and machine learning for our clients, all of which can deliver benefits for the education sector. From handling queries from prospective students and delivering student support services, to supporting learning, teaching and research, these tools have huge potential.

Many of our clients are also exploring the use of immersive technologies such as augmented reality and metaverse, which universities can use as a way to increase student engagement.

The role of Smart Campus and data strategies

In addition to all of the above, I believe we’re going to see a strong focus on using data analytics to gain insights into things like engagement and attainment levels, league table ranking, and operational efficiency. The effective use of such data is also essential for a Smart Campus strategy. We can integrate real-time loT sensor data with other data sources to deliver operational improvements, better utilisation of resources, security and staff and student experience. 

Strategies will also need to be in place to cover factors like equitable access to technology (to avoid digital exclusion), ensuring that AI tools are being used responsibly (to mitigate risks such as plagiarism and unconscious bias), and privacy concerns in relation to aspects of a Smart Campus. By partnering with us, universities can get expert strategic guidance on all of these aspects, and we can implement the technical solutions for them as well.

Our ongoing impact at CGI

I never expected to stay in one company for so long, but there’s such great variety with projects and clients at CGI that my work never stops being interesting. As we work with a wide range of technologies and across different sectors, we have opportunities to gain good all-round experience, or to specialise in a particular area. We have a great career framework in place as well, which sets out different pathways and clearly defined role descriptions. You always understand what your next step could be, with the flexibility to move sideways into a different path if you want to.

People also feel invested in the company’s success, thanks to our ownership culture. We're referred to as members rather than staff, and there's a share purchase plan where CGI matches your contribution up to a certain level. You can see this ownership ethos in the way people approach their work here: there's a sense of pride in doing things properly and genuinely trying to do the best that we can for clients. Our work with higher education is just one example of the rewarding impact we have at CGI.

I can certainly recommend CGI based on my own experience, so I would encourage people to look at our careers page if they're interested!