How Higher and Further Education Sector Has Changed Due to Covid-19

By Core Newsroom

It’s hard to think of an industry that was not affected by Covid-19.

Though broadly similar challenges confront all industries, both during and post-pandemic, there are always unique considerations and opportunities at play. It’s only by working closely with our customers, listening to their stories, and caring passionately about their organisations, that Core can develop the understanding needed to help every organisation achieve more.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Higher and Further Education institutions already had the building blocks in place to enable remote working, teaching, and learning. Many universities were already licensed to tools such as Microsoft Teams, for peer-to-peer collaboration. Learning Management Solutions (LMS) also facilitated asynchronous learning, with lectures and content uploaded and consumed on demand.

As lockdown caused sites to close and learning to move 100% online, institutions faced crucial strategic decisions. For example, should lectures be delivered live, or should they be pre-recorded, shortened and supplemented with group or 1-2-1 forums? While the scope for innovation in the delivery of learning was significant, so too were the challenges that came with them.

For example, pre-recorded lectures required governance to manage questions/interjections, secure the meeting link for invited attendees only, and consider those who did not have sole use of a device at home or had poor connectivity. By moving seminars or group sessions to video meetings through platforms like Microsoft Teams, questions of accessibility and inclusion needed to be considered.

Of course, the issue of data protection, privacy, and governance of calls and chats taking place in the various collaboration platforms on personal devices also required careful thought around policies which balanced the need for collaboration and productivity, with security and safeguarding.

So, while the applications were in place, they may not have been configured to work in a 100% remote landscape, meaning user adoption and change management had to be considered.

As remote working and restrictions remained, many universities faced challenges regarding their Device Management strategy.

While applications like Teams were in place, many institutions found their devices were not configured to function in remote settings. Some were restricted, others did not block the use of unapproved applications for business use, and some were not capable of receiving operating system or security updates unless on-site.

This presented an opportunity to those inclined to capitalise on such changes, for criminal ends. The NCSC and UK Government issued several warnings that the entire Education sector, from Early Years to Universities, were targets of sophisticated and high-volume attacks since lockdown started in March 2020.

How Higher and Further Education responded to Covid-19

Higher and Further Education Institutions in the UK faced the same uncertainty and shift in priorities as most organisations when confronted with the first UK Lockdown in March 2020.

According to Core Sales Account Manager, Callum Mackay, institutions responded to the vulnerabilities and sought to reduce risk in the following ways.

While many had the technology available to them, they found themselves with significant work to do around applying proportionate governance policies to protect data and their users, while also supporting the adoption of productivity applications in such a way as to minimise the risk posed by Phishing attacks or compromised credentials.

A significant number of institutions found themselves with fundamental challenges regarding device management and endpoint security; while limited visibility of the applications being used for by end-users on a day-to-day basis caused a rise in Shadow IT and the potential for data loss.

Renewed emphasis was placed on the need for a robust remote device management strategy using Microsoft Endpoint Manager to facilitate zero-touch deployment, management, and retirement of corporate devices from a single platform. In a world where devices may not be on site for months, zero-touch endpoint management has been essential in maintaining control, visibility and security of devices from afar.

Furthermore, if users prefer to use their own devices, or their corporate device does not function, Endpoint Manager can configure and manage the means by which users work on their own devices while enabling organisations to retain control and ownership over corporate data.

With the impending 2021 release of Windows 11, managing change across hundreds or thousands of devices geographically spread, without needing to physically access the device, could not only save thousands of pounds in shipping, but might be the difference between a disruptive project and a seamless organisation-wide upgrade.

Many organisations also saw the increased risk remote working presented as an opportunity to move towards the Microsoft 365 A5 licensing features. The enhanced security, analytics, and compliance features not available in A3 licenses, helped to bolster what was already in place, and even automate the hunting, detection, and remediation of security and compliance tasks for busy IT teams.

There are, of course, other stories to tell. Each institution survived lockdown in its own way. But for organisations seeking to add resilience, improve security, and enable hybrid working, these Microsoft technologies will provide the tools needed to get there.

How do you get there?

With over thirty years of experience delivering Microsoft solutions, and with more than ten Microsoft Gold competencies, Core is well-positioned to assess your endpoint management environment and advise you on your next steps.

If you would like a free discovery session from one of our subject experts, plus a no-obligation roadmap of how to add resilience and security while enabling hybrid working, click here to arrange a call back from our education specialist.


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