“You can never replace a human”, digital leaders assure

According to data from the International Data Corporation, it is estimated that by 2025, $2.8 trillion will be spent globally on digital transformation, and the impact of this can already be seen in the international education sector.

“I think what’s quite remarkable in our sector is that we’ve had an explosion of digital recruitment platforms, particularly during the Covid-19 period,” said Rod Hearps, vice president, Asia Pacific, ICEF.

Hearps attributes this to a host of reasons – new and better technologies being readily available, individuals having more time to explore such routes and venture capitalists discovering the sector.

“There are literally hundreds,” said Hearps, referring to the online recruitment platforms built by agencies, institutions and service providers including edtech companies.

“The technology has put the model on steroids,” he added.

“It’s an evolution, as much as it is a revolution,” said Chris Price, senior vice president of Partnerships for the UK & EU at Adventus.io

However, Jamie Gibbs, commercial director at Edvisor feels that the sector’s struggle to embrace the “human touch” element of digital solutions is the “most significant blocker” to their success.

According to research by McKinsey, 70% of digital transformation attempts fail due to the resistance of employees.

“I think a key question is how can technology and online selling not replace those relationships between partners and students, but how can they support and make those relationships more effective? How can technology help us to be more effective in selling, not replacing how we sell?” Gibbs added.

Price added that “a lot of people do get a bit nervous about the whole technology piece and quite rightly but the reality is you need to understand what these tools are and how they fit into your ecosystem of international student recruitment”.

Claudia Alsdorf, head of Education Microsoft Germany, said that “many organisations or people are underestimating that [digital transformation] is a cross-organisational, multi-disciplinary, change management process that requires a change of mindset and also the openness to brainstorm on how you can improve or expand current processes.”

One audience member asked the panel if human jobs will become redundant or put at risk as a result of the digital transformation of the sector. Many panellists, such as Price, came forward to dismiss this.

“I don’t think we need to be frightened. To my core I believe we are a human industry and we will always need the services provided by quality people on one side of a marketplace and quality institutions on the other,” said Price.

“To my core I believe we are a human industry”

“Even with the technology, we know this is a people business. It’s all about the connections you make and even with the technology, you have to have those continuous conversations,” said Kayla Briel, associate director of business and innovation, Global University Systems.

“You can never replace a human,” said James Holden, senior strategic engagement manager, Duolingo English Test.

For Holden, it is all about allowing AI and digital tools to assist humans, especially when it comes to the security of digital testing and proctoring.

Duolingo English Test uses AI to compare the identification of test takers, assess plagiarism by comparing text and by monitoring keyboards and monitors, among other uses.

“The beauty of is it is where humans can come in, look at that synthesised data and confirm the decisions of AI,” said Holden.

“We maximise the best of humans and we maximise the best of machines and AI,” he added.

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