Apps & Cloud3 min read

Kingston University: Preparing Students for Workplace Success

Ciara McIlvenna

The university renowned for producing the most sought-after graduates is pioneering a more holistic approach to higher education. Alumni will graduate with digital and problem-solving skills as part of their degree, along with real-life experience in using modern workplace technology. To prepare for this future landscape, Kingston University is adopting a consciously hybrid cloud environment with VMware technology.

The digital skills gap is a growing problem. Leaps in digital innovation have transformed businesses but need to catch up to the number of graduates with technical skills and expertise. The evolution of data has been remarkably rapid. Where once it was considered the concern of IT teams, data is now the driving force behind many successful businesses, and it’s a lucrative field to work in.

Surprisingly, research by the UK government revealed that only one in seven businesses consider university courses an excellent place to learn digital skills. Most training happens in-house, via a private company, or through online programs.

But it is not just tech skills that businesses need to succeed. They’re also looking for excellent communication, adaptability, critical thinking and project management skills. Educational institutions need to strike this delicate balance in their curriculum more than ever, and one university is leading by example.

Kingston University is one of the most prestigious higher education institutions in the country. Based in London, it is home to more than 19,000 students and offers courses across four faculties. In 2021, it started a national conversation around skills for innovation and launched its Future Skills League Table.

This revealed that the best way to gain sought-after skills was not simply to study a subject but to also get hands-on experience. The university decided to pioneer a more holistic approach to higher education, aligning the government, businesses and higher education to embed skills and value across a life-long learning lifecycle.

Building on its vision to equip students with the future skills they’ll need, the university launched its Town House Strategy with four goals:

  • Drive a progressive model of education, combining subject knowledge with future skills and attributes most needed by employers
  • Partner with industry to develop students’ skills and engage with government organizations to debate and influence policy
  • Have a greater impact on research, knowledge exchange and professional practice
  • Provide an innovative, high-performing working environment for staff

Professor Steven Spier, vice chancellor, Kingston University, explains, “The strategy will ensure our graduates, our staff and the university itself are sought after. In other words, students will seek to broaden their knowledge and skills at Kingston University because it will help them to make the most of their higher education and get on in life. Staff will choose to work at the university because they can be effective and innovative and develop their careers, while businesses, organizations and government bodies will seek to partner with us because of our approach, expertise and values.”

Removing the barriers to change

The university’s IT team is responsible for enabling change through technology and ensuring it has the necessary IT infrastructure in place to accomplish its business goals. To achieve its vision for the future, the university needed an agile foundation underpinning the staff and student experience. This included ensuring it could provision more online learning to meet the rising demand for further education courses by businesses as well as making education more accessible to learners across the world.

While the university was equipped with many specialist, best-in-class technologies, its aging on-premises data center needed more scalability and to be more efficient to run.

The answer wasn’t simply to adopt a cloud-first strategy, as Daniel Bolton, head of technical services, Kingston University, explains: “Students use several resource-heavy applications, especially in the design and engineering school. Hosting those in the cloud would consume a lot of data and impact performance. We also had to be mindful that some data needed to stay on campus for compliance reasons. However, we couldn’t ignore the potential that the cloud offers for innovation as well as  to improve the user experience.”

The team decided to adopt a consciously hybrid cloud approach. They wanted to follow a non-disruptive, faster path to the cloud with no downtime and no re-architecture work. VMware Cloud on AWS proved to be the right choice.

The university’s IT team worked with Xtravirt, a cloud consulting and managed services firm and VMware top tier partner to design a new environment on VMware Cloud on AWS for 650 of its 800 virtual machines, carefully assessing which workloads would remain on-premises and migrating the rest.

In addition to providing staff and students with a high-performing environment, as part of the Strategy, the university plans to embed cloud skills in degree courses from its partners such as AWS and VMware to help businesses plug the skills gap. “Cloud and cyber skills are in high demand. Six months after graduation, 95 percent of our alumni are in jobs. To protect our position as a leading UK educator and ensure our students will always be highly sought after, we’ve aligned technology with our business goals,” says Bolton. “We understand our role within society, and we’re proactively addressing the digital skills gap to boost the economy. Our conscious, hybrid cloud is the digital foundation that’s helping us get there.”