What universities need was in Germany

University digitization: from improvisation to strategy

PwC study "Controlling digitization at universities" / Teaching, research and administration only partially digitized despite Corona dynamics / New collaborations could alleviate IT resource shortages / Dr. Florian Kaufmann, Director and Head of the PwCHochschulteam: "Digitization needs a strategic, coordinated approach with a clear time horizon."

Düsseldorf, February 25, 2021

The large German universities with more than 25,000 students approach digitization very differently. 17 out of 31 have appointed IT managers whose powers vary widely. Others form committees made up of members of the management. Above all, the management has so far lacked a performance area (administration, research, teaching, transfer) or even cross-university plan to transfer the digital change from crisis mode to targeted implementation. These are some of the key findings of the study “Controlling digitization at universities. The view of the Rectorates / Presidia of the 31 largest German universities on the governance of digitization ”, which was created by the auditing and consulting company PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The study compares governance models that universities use to organize their digitization. The present interim result is based on a representative comparison of the organizational charts for responsibility for IT and digitization strategies as well as on around 20 in-depth interviews with members of the university management. A follow-up study should finally find best-practice solutions for the most effective and efficient digital change possible.

Rapid progress in digital teaching

“The Corona crisis has brought considerable momentum to the digitization of universities - especially in teaching. Research and administration, on the other hand, are usually still at the very beginning. "

Peter Detemple, Partner and Head of Public Management Consulting at PwC Germany

Slightly more than half of the universities (17 out of 31) nominated a person to be the digitization officer. However, their responsibilities and authorities can vary greatly. Other institutions form committees made up of members of the management or staff units.

In teaching, practically all universities (94.4 percent) use lecture recordings and social media, at least to a limited extent. Mobile learning, such as video conferencing, is also widespread (93.5 percent). Overall, however, these digital teaching-learning formats were rarely didactically optimized. The PwC experts do not see any major digitization boost from Corona in research. For example, many of the universities first had to create a basic IT infrastructure for safe work in the home office.

Digitization is only just beginning in the university administrations. It is most advanced in student affairs: students at around two-thirds of the universities examined (66.3 percent) receive digital notifications of exams and grades, and 55.8 percent of the Universities completely digital and enrollment at 41.9 percent of universities. In all other areas examined, a maximum of one fifth of the universities have consistently implemented digitization.

Universities pursue different management philosophies

With regard to the CIO function, the universities have so far proceeded differently: Universities such as the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule and the Free University of Berlin, for example, have an above-average central administration of traditional style. In contrast, the Technical University of Munich, for example, implements the departmental principle in a differentiated manner. Overall, two control philosophies can be observed for digitization: One concept, for example from the universities of Aachen, Karlsruhe and Leipzig, tries to integrate user interests in a balanced way in CIO committees. In contrast, other universities such as the Technical University of Munich create personal CIO positions to implement decision-making and guideline competencies in organizational terms.

Merge individual projects into an overall strategy

The comparison of the nationally different models raises the question of the extent to which it makes sense to designate clear managers for the CIO function in the university management and to create a “CIO department” that links strategic responsibility with operational resources.

“In practice, it doesn't matter so much whether there is a personal CIO function or not. The decisive factor for successful changes is convincing management and teamwork. "

Dr. Florian Kaufmann, Director at PwC Germany, head of the PwC university team and co-author of the study

According to the study, universities need a strategy for comprehensive digitization that brings together all individual projects in terms of time and content, says Dr. Florian Kaufmann continues. The particular challenge lies in the fact that the large universities consist of huge conglomerates with a wide variety of sub-companies and administrative cultures. And Dr. Verena Holl, manager at PwC Germany and deputy head of the PwC university team, says: “Even within the university, the required IT resources are still widely distributed and rare. Future challenges such as dealing with artificial intelligence and big data analytics can therefore only be mastered by universities across universities. You should therefore work together more systematically on IT issues. "

With a view to the digitization push caused by COVID-19, the PwC experts found that the reactions to the contact restrictions are not new concepts, but rather improvisation; For example, when it comes to the question of which tools (already available before Corona) are used and how. Dr. Florian Kaufmann from PwC says: “The problems and opportunities that COVID-19 brought to light in university digitization are management challenges. Now it should be a matter of accepting them, tackling them strategically and putting them into practice with a clear time horizon. "

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