It’s time to stand in the shoes of Generation-Z – those born around or after 2000. These young people were born into the digital age and have lived with technology as a deeply embedded part of life. These life experiences have already defined their ‘normal’. Naturally they assume that Universities will be ‘normal’ places. Whether we like it not these young people have assumptions about how they will engage with life and learning at University.

The first wave of Generation-Z is making University choices now and is beginning to arrive at our institutions. A second wave, the children of millennials, will reach our Universities within a decade. Universities need to recognise that agility is the only real differentiator in a world that changes this fast. They need to get ready and stay ready to engage with young people in a way that makes sense to them.  

Generation-Z also has a set of beliefs and assumptions about the adult world that they will inhabit and for which University life should prepare them. These views have been shaped by the times in which they have lived. They have no pre-iPhone memories. They have no memory of a time before the financial crash, and they have no conception of what life was life before the advent of social media and hyper-connectivity. These and other experiences will have shaped their purpose in coming to University – what they wish to learn, who they wish to become, their fears, their employment and life goals. Universities need to design a curriculum and learning experience that attracts and continues to delivers for them.

Most Universities are aware that a wave of digital disruption is beginning to hit their sector and is likely to create new winners and losers. They are beginning to develop digital strategies of various kinds with different aspects of University life digitalising at different rates.

Marketing and prospect conversion activities are normally in the vanguard. Digital approaches are also driving efficiencies in business operations. In the long term, there must be deep, digitally-enabled changes to the environments for learning, student engagement and research. These aspects have been relatively slower to change but the consequences will be more significant because changes here impact the very nature of a University education and the research it undertakes.

Universities are not yet ready for Generation Z. A generation clash is looming – between the Baby Boomers who run our institutions and the people they educate.

We all need answers to these questions..

How does Generation Z use technology to engage in the world? How is this ‘normal’ shaping their assumptions about the digital experience they will receive at all stages of their journey from prospective student, through life at University and beyond?

What beliefs and assumptions do Generation Z have about the world of work they will enter? How are these shaping the outcomes they expect from University life?

How prepared are our Universities to meet these expectations? Could we define a measure of ‘digital readiness’ that would be valuable to prospective students? (If we don’t, they will.) (JISC’s Student Digital Experience Tracker is starting to lift the lid on this. Is your institution engaged with this?)

To what extent will Generation Z differentiate between Universities based on their ‘digital readiness’?

Answers please?