In the CEO Keys blog series, Keypath Education CEO Steve Fireng shares his thoughts and insights into the most prevalent topics in online higher education.
For our second Partner Spotlight feature, I met with Aston University’s Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Helen E Higson OBE. Aston University is based in Birmingham, England and has partnered with Keypath to extend its reach in the UK and globally via a suite of innovative online programs.
SF: Thank you for sharing your perspective on our partnership. Please give me some background on Aston University.
HH: Aston University, based in Birmingham, England, takes pride in being excellent, different, and distinctive from other UK Universities and being the leading provider of programmes for business and the professions. Aston’s origins as an institution were in 1895, when the employers of Birmingham could not find employees with the right skills and so set up their own institution. With origins as the Birmingham Municipal College of Technology, Aston was awarded University status in 1966. Today, Aston is widely recognised for its diversity, widening participation and employability. Its teaching is research informed, and its research is applied, which has an impact on businesses, individuals and society at large. With 13,500 students and 1,200 staff, Aston is a medium-sized, focused and growing institution. 120 nationalities live and work on campus.
SF: Why did you decide to take programs online?
HH: Aston University over recent years has been very successful in recruiting large numbers of undergraduate students and is currently looking to diversity its portfolio towards the postgraduate market both domestically and overseas. Restrictions brought in by the UK government has meant that it is growing increasingly difficult for international applicants to secure visas to study on campus. Online programmes meet the needs of those students that do not have the opportunity to study and follows the Aston ethos of inclusivity for all. But this is not the only reason we have started this initiative. We think that working with Keypath will help us to look at our all our processes, particularly those which are customer focussed, and make them more agile and fit for purpose.
SF: What target market do your programs serve?
HH: Aston’s programmes serve a wide range of international markets, including Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Aston is truly an international university with students from over 120 different countries. Aston has been very successful in recruiting international postgraduate students who attend on campus programmes. These students tend to come to Aston either straight after or one or two years following completion of their undergraduate programme. Aston Online provides an opportunity to attract students who are actively working, and are not able to take a year out of their employment to undertake a postgraduate qualification.
SF: What differentiates your programs from competitors?
HH: Aston’s programmes are structured in such a way to enable students to gain the skillsets needed to succeed in today’s competitive workplace. These skills include negotiation, communication, leadership, teamwork and innovative thinking. It is skills such as these that keep our graduates highly sought after by some of the world’s leading organisations.
Innovative, grounded and relevant, the breadth of programmes and diversity of the student community gives students a rounded, international perspective, making them ready for life at the forefront of business.
SF: What advice would you give others that are thinking about launching programs online?
HH: Launching online programmes is by no means a straightforward process and requires dedicated academic and support staff to drive the design, content and support forwards. Taking advantage of the knowledge and expertise through the Keypath partnership is crucial, regardless of whether your institution has launched online programmes in the past, as there is still so much that can be learnt from an organisation that has launched so many programmes and partnerships in so many territories. Frequent and open communication is critical, as well the ability to challenge expectations and barriers to change.
SF: Why did you choose an online program management partnership with Keypath?
HH: The online market in the UK is still in its infancy and has huge potential to form a major part of a University’s offering. Aston wanted to partner with an organisation that has many years of experience in the online field, both in content development and the marketing of programmes to a worldwide audience. The aim is to place the University at the forefront of innovative online delivery.
SF: How do you see the online programs impacting your institution’s future?
HH: The move to online delivery allows Aston University to rebalance its current portfolio of programmes without impacting the stretched physical resources on campus. It is also envisaged that the technology required for online delivery can be carried over in to other onsite programmes, continually challenging academics and the way students engage with the material delivered.
SF: What has the feedback from university leadership and faculty been in regards to the online programs?
HH: The leadership team have been impressed with the flexibility shown in the development of materials and the innovative nature of building the student experience into all programmes. We have, however, realised that we need to keep up lots of talking to make sure we speak the same language!