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How is the higher education industry using the cloud?

January 10, 2023

The global Cloud Computing in Higher Education market is forecasted to reach approximately $8,779.1 million by the year 2027. While challenges persist, the higher education industry can leverage cloud computing to manage business operations and student needs more effectively. Here’s how:

How is cloud computing used in higher education?

Higher education can use cloud computing services to manage administrative, educational, and IT data and services. The education industry has typically relied on legacy on-premises data centers and servers. Cloud computing enables these institutions to modernize their tech stack, improve efficiency, and earn long-term cost savings.

What are the benefits of cloud computing in higher education for IT teams and administrators?

Why should higher education even consider adopting cloud computing? Higher education cloud services benefit students, faculty, and staff, in addition to streamlining IT processes and data management. Institutions that invest in education cloud computing often see the following benefits:

Improve IT management and efficiency

Managing and maintaining on-premises infrastructure leaves IT professionals with little extra time. Cloud simplifies and streamlines IT management, freeing your team to focus on strategy rather than routine maintenance. 

Cloud providers use a shared responsibility model, which means they share security responsibilities with your internal team. Without the entire burden of cybersecurity resting on your team’s shoulders, they can devote more time to strengthening defenses and defining cybersecurity policies. Equip your team with the right cloud computing skills before you take the leap.

Earn long-term cost savings

On-site hardware and software expenses span everything from upfront costs to personnel maintenance fees, leases, and utilities. Unexpected issues like broken equipment can lead to additional costs. And if you need more data storage, you’ll likely need to buy more hardware as well.

So, don’t let cloud computing’s upfront costs deter you. After the initial expenses, cloud computing for education becomes a predictable monthly cost based on usage. Cloud vendors also handle system updates and maintenance, effectively eliminating those fees. 

Because cloud applications can run on web browsers, you don’t need to shell out extra cash for specific devices to use them either. For budget-conscious industries like higher education, this makes cloud the most cost-effective choice in the long run.

Enhance cybersecurity and business continuity

The data stored by higher education institutions make them prime targets for cyber attacks:

  • Personally identifiable information 

  • Financial records

  • Intellectual property

  • Research intelligence

  • Medical records

Storing this information on a hard drive leaves it vulnerable to theft and other disasters. On-premises data centers run into similar issues with data backups and disaster recovery. Storing data in the cloud, on the other hand, greatly reduces these risks. 

Most cloud vendors automatically perform data backups at least once per day and have robust disaster recovery plans. In the case of an incident, infrastructure and data recovery is faster, sometimes even instantaneous. As a result, organizations can quickly resume operations and keep data loss to a minimum.

Just remember: Adopting cloud computing for education alone isn’t enough to ensure cybersecurity. Higher education also needs to invest the time into maintaining security policies, creating their own data backup and disaster recovery plans, and implementing multi-factor authentication.

Gain scalability and flexibility

Scaling on-premises servers can be costly and time-consuming. It’s difficult for these systems to keep up with sudden changes, like a rush of demand during course registration (or an overnight shift to virtual learning). 

Cloud, on the other hand, can automatically shrink or expand alongside your operational needs. Due to its elastic nature, cloud services give the higher education industry the ability to meet changing traffic or data storage needs. And since cloud services bill by usage, you only pay for what you need.

Collaborate more effectively

Cloud computing in education enables real-time communication and collaboration. Because data is stored in the cloud instead of on specific devices, students, faculty, and staff can easily collaborate with each other, even if they’re spread across the globe.

Leverage data to drive outcomes

Cloud computing lets higher ed experiment with machine learning, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics to drive organizational goals. These can give you insights into student engagement and retention, and ultimately allow you to deliver personalized learning experiences.

What are the benefits of cloud computing in higher education for students and faculty?

Higher education cloud services benefit students and faculty, not just IT teams and administrators.

Accelerate academic research

Cloud computing in higher education has the power to process complex workloads and store large amounts of data. Researchers get more time to dedicate to research, speeding up innovation and time to insights.

Increase accessibility

Students and faculty can access digital resources through the cloud, which improves access to educational materials while reducing paper waste and (potentially) eliminating the need for expensive physical textbooks. 

Some courses also ask students to use industry-specific tools. Cloud-based applications provide more affordable access with monthly subscriptions that students only need to pay for the duration of the course.

Power virtual learning

Due to the pandemic, most universities now offer some form of virtual learning. As more students turn to e-learning (due to health concerns or personal preferences), higher education needs to meet their needs.

With cloud computing, higher education can shift to fully remote instruction and offer on-demand courses that let students study when it best suits their schedule.

Augment learning experiences

Course curricula often fail to keep up with industry trends and in-demand skills. Cloud learning platforms allow you to augment traditional education with the hottest topics and skill sets. 

This includes virtual computer labs, hands-on cloud sandboxes, and other experiences. Not only does this better equip current students for the workforce, but can also prove a powerful way to attract new students to your institution.

Prepare students for the workforce

Skill acquisition can’t keep up with the rapid rate of technological advances. As a result, organizations face major skills gaps in areas such as cloud computing and cybersecurity. When you give students the opportunity to augment their university courses with cloud skills, you give them tangible, transferable skills they can carry into the workforce.

What are the challenges of cloud computing in higher education?

Large-scale digital transformations come with benefits and challenges alike. In the case of cloud computing, the benefits typically outweigh the potential risks. But you can’t take cybersecurity, compliance, and budget concerns lightly, especially in higher education. 

Let’s take a look at the challenges associated with implementing cloud computing in higher education.

Maintaining cloud security

Many higher education organizations find themselves in at least one of the following scenarios:

  • Relying on legacy systems that don’t offer protection from modern threats

  • Using services and products that no longer provide customer support

  • Following outdated technology policies and procedures

  • Trying to balance complex compliance with cybersecurity needs

Cloud computing can address these cybersecurity weaknesses, but also open the door to other potential risks. For one thing, IT staff are familiar with legacy systems and infrastructure. Working with an unfamiliar system or new vendor means that they’ll have to learn new intricacies, which can increase the risk of human error. 

You can reduce these concerns by selecting the right cloud provider. Look for a reputable cloud vendor with a proven track record of working with similar higher education institutions. Do they use industry-standard security tools and processes? Do they have the tools you need to protect your data and maintain compliance? Will they offer deployment and ongoing support?

Ensuring compliance

To protect sensitive data, higher education needs to comply with various compliance frameworks:

  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

  • Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH)

While these rigorous controls don’t prohibit cloud transformation, they can certainly slow down the process and add an extra layer of complexity.

Working within budget constraints

Budget constraints force higher education institutions to make tough decisions about where to allocate funds. The upfront cost of a cloud migration, and subsequent service fees, can be a sizable roadblock in the short term. In the long run, though, cloud computing has the potential to reduce overall costs.

Cost of cloud computing

Because cloud vendors bill by usage, the cost of cloud computing can quickly get out of hand if you aren’t careful. To counter this:

  • Ask your cloud provider about add-ons and additional fees

  • Work with your IT team and cloud vendor to identify auto-scaling opportunities so you don’t pay for unused cloud capacity 

  • Educate staff about the costs of cloud computing services 

Cloud computing for education doesn’t need to account for an entirely new portion of your technology budget. On-premises servers come with their own expenses, like routine maintenance and utilities. A shift to cloud computing allows you to reduce or eliminate these costs.

Cost of data breaches

The cost of cloud computing itself isn’t the only expense to consider. Higher education should also consider indirect expenses, like the cost of potential cybersecurity threats.

The State of Ransomware in Education 2021 found that the total cost of a ransomware attack in the education sector, including downtime, people time, device cost, network cost, lost opportunity, ransom paid, and more was, on average, $2.73 million—the highest across all sectors surveyed.

Ask your institution to weigh the cost of cloud computing services against the cost of a data breach or cyber attack—which would they prefer?

What kind of clouds are used in higher ed?

Various cloud vendors offer services specific to the higher education industry. The type of cloud services you use, and whether or not you use a multicloud approach, depends on your goal. What are you hoping to achieve with cloud computing? 

Some example cloud goals in higher education include:

  • Improving the student experience with increased accessibility and new digital learning experiences

  • Strengthening cybersecurity and replacing outdated legacy systems

  • Centralizing data management and minimizing data loss

  • Facilitating and streamlining academic research

Should higher education faculty and staff be trained in cloud computing?

Yes, higher education faculty and staff should be trained in cloud computing. But what they need to know will differ depending on their role.

Hands-on cloud experience

As our 2022 State of Cloud report found, only 8% of technologists have extensive experience working with cloud-related tools. Anyone who will be working with the cloud environment needs upskilling and hands-on cloud experience before the migration.

An understanding of cloud billing models

Cloud services bill based on usage. They don’t charge fixed rates like many IT services. Finance and IT teams need to understand cloud computing’s unique billing model to reduce unnecessary spend and optimize cloud costs. 

Courses can help you understand the costs associated with subscriptions for AWS and Microsoft Azure for higher education.

Tech fluency for cloud computing

If you implement an institution-wide cloud transformation, everyone should have a basic understanding of the technology and what it means for them. They need to be tech fluent.

Reimagine higher education with cloud computing

For higher education, the barrier to cloud computing can feel insurmountable. Overcome the challenge by developing your institution’s cloud skills first.

When you upskill your IT teams in cloud computing, you equip them to manage this digital transformation—without risking compliance and security. And when you extend cloud skills to faculty and students, you empower their success in academia and beyond.

Pluralsight Skills empowers higher education institutions to successfully navigate cloud migrations.