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Leveraging Lifelong Learning: A Path to Transformation for the University of Oxford

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Delivering a student-centric learner experience is critical to keep individuals in the workforce relevant. Oxford University is looking to take this student-centric model globally.

There is no doubt that change is inevitable. But in higher education, this is often slower than industry is used to. Many adults are questioning the value of a post-secondary education and there are gaps in the job market that need to be filled. This is an opportunity for institutions to evaluate their traditional approaches and adapt to the modern learner (and their expectations).  

In this interview, Mark Bramwell discusses the transformation of the higher ed market across the globe, the lingering effects of the pandemic and how it’s re-shaping the way even well-established schools are approaching the new era of higher ed with a lifelong learning model.  

The EvoLLLution: What are some of the factors that led Oxford’s Saïd Business School to start looking at new approaches to driving programming and learner engagement? 

Mark Bramwell (MB): Higher Education is going through a massive change and transformation—not only in the UK, but also globally. When I talk to peers across the sector in other business schools and universities, we look at how the pandemic affected us. We had to change when it came to online and hybrid learning—those are here to stay and will be here for a while longer (possibly forever).  

We may be slightly different in that respect within Said Business School, University of Oxford, as we continue to acknowledge, support and promote the power of face-to-face convening. We may call it the Oxford experience, where there’s networking and the highly discussive power of convening as a cohort. That diversity of nationalities, genders, thinking and conversation that comes from that face-to-face interaction is key for the student experience.  

However, we’re physically constrained by space, as I'm sure many institutions are. If we want to grow our markets, the only way we can do that seriously is by looking into the online space, market and programs.  

But there’s another important dimension; access to education is a basic human right. By moving to an online platform, that allows us to reach geographies and learners via channels that previously weren’t possible. It’s a direction we’re seeing that is getting more traction. There are more entrants in the online market and it’s where the partnership between Saïd Business School, University of Oxford and Modern Campus has an exciting future. 

Evo: Why was the team at Oxford and the Saïd School compelled to make this change when there is less of a pressure from a financial or business success perspective that other schools might face?  

MB: It’s a great point and I wouldn’t want to be complacent. We’re very fortunate to consistently be ranked as a leading business school within the world, embedded within the world’s number one ranked University. 

You’re right in that the admission numbers aren’t the same challenge for Oxford as many others, but it’s much more layered, nuanced and complex than that.  

It’s a two-way relationship in terms of not only how we can accept and ensure we’re providing the maximum opportunity for all applicants, but also how we can take Oxford to a global scale. We are passionate about providing access to education, making positive impact and tackling world scale problems, some of the things that we are looking at in terms of our partnership with Modern Campus. We’re looking into geo pricing so that we can factor in the different socioeconomic values and capabilities that exist on a global platform. This way we can promote, support and provide inclusivity in terms of access to education.  

If we want to increase our opportunity to make a global impact on the world and society, we have to do that by extending the way we can provide access to education. We want to develop, grow and enhance people’s lives.  

Evo: What do learners expect when it comes to their higher education experience?  

MB: We get feedback from our students about one specific thing. Students don't want a complex ecosystem of systems. They want highly integrated systems with one ID and one password, and the ability to pass seamlessly between these systems without barriers. 

What we saw in terms of the architecture that we set out from the beginning with Modern Campus, was that we were able to plumb all of those together and provide that seamless customer experience that has always been our objective. We look at the larger enrollment process and noticed that the fewer the touch points, the more likely someone will complete their checkout.  

Evo: A lot of higher ed schools are looking to MOOCs, OPMs and other third-party content providers as a pathway to education. Why has your team taken the approach to run everything out of your own shop? 

MB: When you look at the market and see some of the difficulties that some more well-established tech providers have, you have to ask why Said Business School would do this and why now?  

That answer is threefold.  

One, the strength, recognition, identity, reputation and trust of our brand.  

Second, we want to ensure we have more ownership of our intellectual property, and the quality of programs reflects the Oxford name. That comes from partnerships to help augment our internal resources, but also retain ownership and quality assurance.  

The third thing, which is an important commercial consideration and acknowledgement, is those partnerships do work and we used to run them ourselves. That’s how we started. However, typically they come with giving away a percentage of the revenue. If we look at our five-year strategy and the pillar of financial sustainability—if we want to financially grow our business—we want to experiment and we can do that by retaining more of the revenue ourselves. If we can, then we can become more self-sustainable and reinvest back into our business to do more exciting, experimental and innovative things to enhance our learner experience in the next generation of programs and more broadly across the school strategy. 

This interview was edited for length and clarity. To learn more about how the Saïd Business School is delivering a student-centric experience globally, click here.