Change is coming and this new generation of students is leading it. Photograph: Alamy
We all know that there’s a change coming in higher education, and it’s not only government agencies and Brexit driving it. A new digitally innate generation of students is just beginning to enter our universities, prompting the question: are we ready for this influx of industrious, collaborative and entrepreneurial learners? Welcome to Generation Z, a generation defined by Anne Kingston as “smarter than Boomers, and way more ambitious than the Millennials”.
Unlike the generations who have gone before them – Millennials (aka Generation Y), Gen X and Baby Boomers – Gen Z were born after 1995 into a world where the internet, social media and mobile technology always existed. The world as they know it has been blighted by financial, economic and environmental turmoil and they want to make a change.
Generation Z is beginning to appear in the workplace, and they’re bringing their new technology and big ideas with them. Outside of higher education their arrival has been expected for some time, with HR specialists considering the impact of Gen Zs in the workplace as early as 2008. So why aren’t we thinking about the impact of Gen Zs in higher education? Is anyone in the sector having these conversations? Is the sector failing to forward plan? Or, is the sector still thinking about millennials?
The need to rethink how we engage with our students is supported by renowned sector expert Eric Stoller. He has noted that: “University leaders who understand the connection between digital engagement and student experience will cause dynamic changes within their organisations. Student-focused efforts, led via savvy social media practitioners, will win the day.”
This call for collaboration is backed by a leading service design expert with more than 30 years’ experience in higher education. In a recent article in Efficiency Exchange, Jean Mutton pointed out that students have a fundamental role to play as change agents in “learning, teaching and professional services”, not least because this generation of students has different expectations of technology.
How do we learn to rethink our interactions with this new generation? That’s easy, co-creation is key. In simple terms, involve your applicants and students in redesigning your services to meet their needs. As Lancaster design PhD student Hayley Alter notes, we should “collaborate and democratise the design process”. We’d go even further and suggest that co-creation isn’t just about working with students. It’s also about challenging pre-conceptions.
That means looking further afield and learning from organisations outside of the sector. The likes of Apple, Google and Tesla – organisations that develop, innovate and lead where others follow.
Like these innovators, try getting into your students’ smartphones. Here at Lancaster University we have achieved this using the iLancaster app. With more than 79,000 users iLancaster engages students from application to enrolment and throughout their time at university. It uses the student journey to offer a more user-centric experience. Importantly, students have been integral to the design and development of the app and that’s why it provides them with access to all the information they need. That includes everything from grades and course timetables, to social events, recipe swaps and reminders to put their bins out.
But remember, it’s not all about digital developments. Just as the rise of music streaming has coincided with a resurgence in vinyl, the ubiquity of online communications means a rare delivery through the post can have a bigger impact than ever before. At least that’s what we found when we asked our students how our welcome communications made them feel.
Change is coming and this new generation of students is leading it. This presents a significant challenge to university leaders, who need to be prepared for the clash of three generations – X, Y and Z, each with their own outlook and habits. Don’t be surprised if you encounter fear of the unknown among colleagues.
The best way to manage the change? Work with Gen Zs and involve them in designing your services.[“Source-theguardian”]