Michael is IT admin support for the University of St Gallen MBA programme. He explains how the technology landscape of higher education is changing and how being a student helps him understand the IT requirements of his peers.
What are your main responsibilities at University of St Gallen?
There are two parts to it. The first is a support function for MBA students. MBA students have their own learning management system, and I assist them with any IT problems: for instance, if they’re not able to log into the learning management system or if they need help with VPN access. The second part is that I’m in charge of the IT landscape of the MBA, which in some ways is integrated with the larger IT landscape of the university, but in other ways quite distinct.
This is a part-time role I have alongside my study at the university. I’m studying a Master’s in business innovation and currently in the process of finishing my thesis.
What are the main challenges you face in your role, and how do you try to overcome them?
The main challenge is that a lot of people don’t consider IT as something as important as perhaps it should be. Students often don’t see the necessity of IT until they actually need it. As an example, many don’t really appreciate that they need a VPN client until it gets to the point that they need access to library resources: and then several of them come to us to ask for help installing it.
IT is not always a high priority for staff, either. It takes time to convince a lot of staff members that we can do things automatically with IT that we used to do manually. Lots of people we deal with want a quick solution instead of taking the time to commit to something long-term, learn something new and adapt their processes.
What’s the most common misconception of a university IT department?
That our IT systems are as modern and up-to-date as those of a large company. We’re always trying improve and to learn more about the ways students and staff use our IT systems, but funding is a barrier. MBA students often come from a large corporate environment and they can get used to certain support functions which we can’t provide.
You’re President of the Big Data Club. How has this complemented your study and work?
We founded it at the beginning of this year for students who are interested in things that go beyond business, and who want to get into the techy side of things which aren’t covered in degree programmes. The club offers some hands-on experience in programming and coding that students can’t access elsewhere at the university.
How do you think the IT requirements of a university will change in the next ten years?
I think one of the biggest changes will be the availability of online courses. They’ll be offered not only by technology-focused universities and big US institutions, but also by smaller universities that aren’t necessarily so technology-driven.
To make this possible, many universities will have to use technology in ways completely new to them. They’ll have to convince the teachers and professors to actually create these courses, which will be massively different to all the other courses they’ve worked on before.
Universities will have to make massive adjustments to be able to deliver an experience that’s really tailored to every student. They’ll have so many more opportunities to deliver individualised solutions: blended learning, for example. That will require massive innovation.
My job in higher ed is a monthly interview series with people in a variety of roles at institutions across Europe. Read the other interviews here.