Universities have had to ramp up their compute power to accommodate the increase in online learning since the onset of the pandemic and the resulting move toward hybrid learning models.

This is among the findings from an IDC study, “Post-Pandemic IT Infrastructure in South African Universities”, released by Dell Technologies.

The study analyses key trends shaping the higher education sector in South Africa and gauges the adoption of IT hardware, server, and storage equipment among universities in the country. The study also looks at some of the drivers of adoption and the challenges institutions face and provides the context for the future outlook of the sector.

South Africa has 25 private universities and over 20 public universities across its nine provinces. Currently universities accommodate more than 1-million students, with government planning to increase university enrolment to 1,5-million by 2030.

The findings highlight that CIO’s need to reprioritise their technology spending plans in 2021 and beyond by investing in technologies that enable cost savings while maximising business productivity and learning outcomes.

This includes adopting a “cloud first” approach to reduce costs and improve efficiency. In addition, vulnerability to cyber-attacks has increased as the attack surface has expanded. CIO’s need to ensure that security remains a key priority for higher learning institutions. Another key priority is the urgent need to modernise and automate existing systems and platforms by implementing technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics.

As IDC cites in the report: “Only a few use cases exist at the university level; for example, AI is used to enhance the admission process by enabling universities to forecast demand and achieve their target enrolment numbers. The use of AI to deliver classes is yet to gain traction at the university level, although this will likely be a future area of focus.”

Looking at current IT infrastructure usage requirements of universities, the study details how at the onset of the pandemic institutions were focused on connectivity and secure access to educational content. IT departments are now shifting focus to adopting better computing power and storage, to handle the vast amounts of data being generated from online learning platforms and learning tools.

Until recently universities deployed up to 250 server and storage systems in their IT infrastructure environments. Server and storage systems are typically deployed centrally in a single datacentre and then split into different clusters that run specific applications. Traditionally, administration departments used about 60% of existing IT infrastructure capacity, however this is changing as academic departments have shifted to online teaching and so has the level of usage.

Looking to the future, universities will have to adapt their digital transformation strategy, based on key technology shifts while seeking new ways to invest and consume technology.

* Growth drivers: Spending will be driven by the adoption of online learning which will require investment in technologies such as cloud, storage and servers. In fact, the IDC report states that average spending on storage and server systems is expected to grow by 8% to 10% annually in the shorter term (over the next one to three years) and by 2,5% to 3% annually in the longer term (three to five years).

* Addressing budget constraints: While educational institutions are fast tracking their digital initiatives, as little as 5% to 10% of budgets are allocated to IT.

Doug Woolley, MD of Dell Technologies South Africa, comments: “Universities, like most organisations, are undergoing a process of rapid digitisation and whilst there are barriers that need to be considered, CIO’s in the education sector need to be empowered to assist universities to transition into the digital area, by being in a position to secure grants to gain access to the hardware and storage they require to transition to an advanced hybrid-learning model. At Dell Technologies we are committed to drive human progress, and technology-driven education will allow our youth to reach their true potential and create a better future for themselves and South Africa as a whole.”

Mark Walker, associate vice-president: sub-Saharan Africa at IDC, says: “At IDC, we aim to promote economic growth and industrial progress in South Africa by providing rich insights into trends shaping our economy. The insights obtained in the study, show the current digital transformation taking place within tertiary education institutions in South Africa.

“There is no doubt that the South African government is encouraging the adoption of technology within institutions both private and public. CIOs need to motivate for the technology required to move universities forward and to keep students learning and equipped to enter into the working world and contribute to the growth of the South African economy.”


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