How will higher education help to make our cities smart?
Matt Dunkin, Managing Director of Collabco, considers how the digital campus will turn out digital graduates that become smart citizens
Posted by Charley Rogers | December 28, 2017 | Higher education
collabco, matt-dunkin, digital-graduates, smart-cities, digital-campus, smart-cities, digital-graduates

Buildings that can tell us when they need repair, wifi on every street corner, sensors that tell the dustbin men where, when and how often to collect, and even technology that tells us which streets are more likely to be crime hotspots based upon traffic and movement. It’s just a sample of the things that we could hope to see in a connected smart city. As we connect more devices to the internet – watches, smartphones, cars, buildings and even our dustbins – we have more data at our fingertips upon which to make smarter and more efficient decisions. That in turn makes us smarter and more efficient. And in an age where technology should help us to reduce costs, that’s a good thing. 

To work well, smart cities really need only three things; a smart and innovative population – that’s where higher education comes in; a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem, i.e. businesses, and smart government and infrastructure. Universities have a pivotal role to play and so thinking digitally is crucial to success. It’s important that universities work in close collaboration with the other two elements – businesses and local government to ensure they help to develop and test new technologies, turn ideas into prototypes and unlock and analyse urban data for the good of a city’s citizens whilst delivering digitally savvy graduates to the workplace.

It’s surprising then that the implementation of digital campuses is still a hard fought battle in some of our higher education institutions. Proving the case for return on investment is difficult when campuses are still set up in legacy ‘silos’ of data and in their decision-making.  Whose responsibility is it to drive the digitisation of university campus services for students and staff? Is it a C-suite decision based around delivering return for fees and retaining students, a marketing issue based around attracting new students, an IT decision to promote the benefits technology can bring, or a departmental decision based around the requirements of each faculty? The answer is all of them – and of course more widely, beyond the university campus, it’s of benefit to our cities and to society.

To work well, smart cities really need only three things; a smart and innovative population – that’s where higher education comes in. 

If we get the digitisation of higher education right, the result is an attractive city to work and live in driven by a strong knowledge economy, and universities that offer their students a 21st century digital experience when studying – surely a must in the year 2017/18? The digital campuses will turn out digital graduates that go on to become smart citizens. Cities will be able to deliver an Internet of Things strategy backed by not just smart technology, but smart people too, and in all of the world’s smart cities, there are smart people – lots of them. They’re being educated to a tertiary level in university and college campuses that are increasingly digital in nature and that in turn helps to attract some of the brightest national and international students to their gates. Not only that, many of those universities are at the core of the transformation from industrial to information-based economies. It’s a symbiotic lifecycle where urbanisation drives the demand for education because of the higher-level skills requirement of the economy, whilst education drives urbanisation because its where educated and skilled people choose to live and find work.

Predictions are optimistic – according to analyst firm Statista, we will see 3.33 billion connected devices in smart cities by 2018 and Gartner predicts that roughly two thirds of devices will be consumer-owned items. As a city’s population grows, more data will be collected and the city becomes smarter.  Higher education doesn’t have a moment to waste on its path to digitisation, if it’s to play its part in delivering the UK’s smartest cities.  

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