Human-Centred Digital Transformation in Universities

In Education

Universities are at a pivotal moment in their history, tasked with adapting to the ever-evolving expectations of students in a digital age. However, these institutions face a complex landscape marked by financial constraints. To succeed in the future, leaders need to strike a balance between financial sustainability and delivering a strong value proposition.

Why human-centered design is critical for universities

Higher education (HE) was never designed with the needs of the people it serves at the heart. Throughout history, universities have been made to serve academic and government requirements. Later, their structures were set in stone by rigid IT systems and inflexible governance models. Students were expected to fit in — and be grateful for the chance to do so.

University leaders need to address their digital challenges with some urgency if they are to remain competitive and attract the students they want and need. The digital transformation ahead of institutions will require a new way of thinking — one that is designed around the needs of the people they are intended to serve.

In 2023, EY talked to the humans at the heart of universities, creating two reports which explore how purposefully placing human needs and expectations at the centre of HE digital transformation will improve university success.

The first report focuses on clarifying what needs to be done to digitally transform universities based on the needs of the humans that transformation will serve. It will be followed by a related paper helping leaders with how to lead their transformations successfully, using a human centric approach.

The Study at a Glance

In 2023, EY teams conducted primary research that aimed to find practical strategies for universities to prioritise people, placing them at the centre of digital transformation endeavours. This was achieved through direct engagement with people who form the core of university communities, including students, teaching staff, administrative staff and university leaders.

EY teams collaborated with Times Higher Education (THE) to survey 3,030 undergraduate and post-graduate students across eight geographies: Australia/New Zealand, Canada, India, Japan, Saudi Arabia/United Arab Emirates, Singapore, UK/Ireland and the US.



Undergraduate and post-graduate students participated in a quantitative survey


teaching staff participated across 23 focus groups


administrative staff shared their experience across 26 focus groups


in-depth interviews with university leaders

Mature male professor explaining students at table in university

Is your university’s transformation centered on tech or people?

As universities seek to create a distinctive experience, our report looks at what students and staff want from digital.

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