Tue. Jun 15th, 2021


Educause Identifies Top IT Issues for an Uncertain Future

Each year Educause releases a report examining what its members consider the top 10 issues in IT for the coming year. This year, however, members — IT leaders and professionals in higher education — faced a quandary: Nobody knows what 2021 will look like because COVID-19 is holding all of us hostage for the foreseeable future. So the organization took a new approach. As Susan Grajek, vice president of communities and research, explained in an Educause conference session this week, the research project laid out three possible scenarios for how colleges and universities “might emerge” from the pandemic next year:

  • Restored, meaning the school would focus on survival, how to get back to where it was prior to the pandemic;
  • Evolved, meaning it would focus on “adapting to the new normal”; and
  • Transformed, meaning it would take “an active role” in innovating its approach to higher education.

Those scenarios generated three lists of top IT issues instead of one; but each list was limited to five issues instead of 10. The report is scheduled to be released on Nov. 2 and made available on the Educause website.

Some things didn’t change. As usual, a roster of expert panelists, both IT and non-IT, identified the top IT issues for the coming year. That part of the process was no different from previous years, when the panelists pick out 15 to 20 issues for members to vote on. But this year, the experts created three versions of each issue list, one for each scenario. Then Educause surveyed members on those three lists to come up with the top five issues for each.

The research project also worked under three assumptions:

  • Assumption 1: that vaccines would become available and the pandemic would start “to resolve” during 2021;
  • Assumption 2: the scenarios would be “high-level” and “very general,” to accommodate school variation in culture, vision and business model; and
  • Assumption 3: one outcome probably wouldn’t wholly fit any single institution; a school’s financial health might follow one scenario while its academic work might follow another.

Many of the issues overlap from one scenario to another. As Grajek pointed out, the “Restore” and “Evolve” outcomes share four issues in common. But the details are different. For example, while information security showed up on both Restore and Evolve lists, for Restore, the issue of security “is qualified by the need to be budget conscious,” she noted, and more tactically-minded. The concerns in the Evolve list are focused on developing a more strategic approach to cybersecurity and expands the scope to encompass off-campus security protection too.

Likewise, while online learning appeared as an issue on both lists, in survival mode (Restore), the emphasis is on dealing with the emergency of “remote teaching” and follows a more structural approach that focuses on “supports, processes and policies.” In the adaptation mode (Evolve), the quality of online learning takes on more importance.

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