2022/23 UK higher education professional services staff digital experience insights survey findings
The digital experience insights survey for higher education professional services staff took place between October 2022 and June 2023. Participating universities were able to select their own survey period within these dates, typically a three to four week window.
There were 3,749 respondents from 19 different universities. 13 of these were based in England, three in Scotland and three in Wales. These 19 organisations represent 9% of all higher education providers in the UK.
The highest number of responses from a single organisation was 672 staff (17% of their total professional services staff population) and the mean number of responses was 197 per organisation (on average 16% of the total number of professional services staff in each organisation that participated). However, five of the 19 organisations contributed fewer than 100 responses.
A survey indicating the digital experience of further education professional services staff was run simultaneously and results can be found in our 2022/23 further education professional services staff report.
Through Jisc’s digital experience insights service, organisations can gain valuable data to inform strategic, operational and digital investment decisions, evidence year-on-year improvements and demonstrate return on investment. Organisations that take part have access to their own data to assess their unique situations as well as benchmarking data. Full information about the digital experience insights surveys is detailed on our information page.
Our 2022/23 digital experience insights survey for professional services staff in higher education looked at the ways digital technology enhanced a wide range of job roles. We investigated how well staff in 19 organisations were supported to use digital tools and systems, their working environments, as well as the support they were offered to develop their digital skills and capabilities.
Both our HE students insights survey and HE teaching staff insights survey this year indicated that learning and teaching are increasingly well established as blended experiences. Equally, this year’s participants in the professional services staff insights survey indicated that working in higher education involves using digital technology in a range of face-to-face and online environments – including on campus, at home and in public spaces. Professional services staff use a wide range of tools, require a range of support mechanisms and have various skills development needs. They also need to be backed up by more reliable digital infrastructure, responsive technical and IT support teams, and suitable devices for working. A culture that highlights best practice in digital working and collaboration, and a culture that encourages staff to continually refresh and develop their skills is also an apparent need.
As in our previous surveys, we made room for professional services staff to express their positive and negative experiences of using digital technologies in their job roles. The last section of the report highlights the qualitative data from our survey and presents a range of suggestions for universities to improve the digital experience and working environments for their staff.
Most professional services staff worked on campus and online
The vast majority of professional services staff in HE reported working both at home (92%) and on campus (97%). A not insignificant number also worked in public spaces (24%). When asked to indicate whether they worked mainly on campus or online, most staff (59%) worked in a mixture of on campus and online environments (25% worked mainly on campus and 16% worked mainly online). This represents a significant shift back towards on campus working – last year’s report showed that 34% of staff worked mainly online. When asked to talk about the positive experiences of working using digital technology, staff recognised the efficiencies and flexibility afforded by the wide range of communication and productivity tools offered to them by universities.
While most respondents felt digital technologies to be convenient (88%) and enabled them to work in the ways they preferred (84%), a large number of staff clearly expressed a need for more support. Almost a fifth (18%) had no suitable device for working, and about a quarter (26%) had no private area to work while on campus. Staff experienced a range of issues with accessing and using systems on and off campus (including slow or unintuitive systems and VPN networks), and faced a number of problems with their working environments. For some this involved a lack of privacy and unreliable or unsuitable devices (eg slow laptops, lack of docking stations and peripherals) in shared offices or hybrid meeting rooms. For others, the home working environment had an impact on physical and mental wellbeing (eg work-life balance and isolation).
Overall support for online working was good but some areas could be improved
Approximately four-fifths (81%) of professional services staff felt that their university’s online working environment was above average (only 3% rated the online working environment as below average). In addition, the overall support for effective online working was rated relatively highly compared to the rating provided by HE teaching staff for the support provided for effective online teaching. 71% of professional services staff rated the support offered for effective online working to be the best imaginable, excellent or good, compared to 51% of teaching staff who rated the support for effective online teaching to be the best imaginable, excellent or good.
Most respondents felt supported to access platforms and services while off campus (66% agreed, 6% disagreed), and most felt supported to communicate effectively online (60% agreed, 8% disagreed). However, professional services staff expressed a need for more responsive IT and technical support, and wanted it to be easier to find help – including face-to-face support and online guidance. It was also clear in this year’s survey (as in the teaching staff and student surveys) that a large number of professional services staff struggled with network and device problems. More than half (53%) had issues with digital technologies at work, and 37% of staff faced problems with poor wifi connections.
These experiences may have influenced the preferences given for future investment in the digital environment: 44% preferred universities to focus on upgrading platforms and systems, while 22% preferred a focus on improving IT support.
Training opportunities could be improved for professional services staff
Despite overall support being rated relatively highly, when asked to rate the support provided for specific digital competencies and training needs, professional services staff felt support was lacking. Only about a fifth (21%) were offered an assessment of their digital skills and training needs. Similarly, only around quarter (26%) agreed that they had been given time to explore new digital tools and approaches.
Additionally, less than half (42%) felt that they had been offered guidance about the digital skills needed for their job role. In a wide range of skills areas, only a small percentage of staff said they had been offered support. This included only 36% of staff who had been offered training for the key area of ‘working online’. The only area where more than half of staff said they had been given support was in ‘keeping data secure’ (53%). However, under half (41%) understood how their university collected and used student data (40% neutral, 18% disagreed).
When asked to talk about the more negative aspects of their digital experience, and what their universities may do to help them use digital technologies more effectively, respondents expressed a feeling that training opportunities were generally geared towards teaching staff and students rather than professional services staff. They desired a wider range of role-specific training, more responsive support, and accreditation and recognition for their digital skills. Indeed, only 14% of respondents agreed that they had been offered formal recognition for their digital skills.