Getting the students to stick around

Gill Smith
An inspiring environment underpins a positive student experience, contributing to a university’s success, status and profitability.

UK universities enrol over two million students each year from the UK and around the world, who study nearly 1,200 different subjects[i]. Today’s students join a changing higher education landscape, where, regardless of whether they’re attending a campus, collegiate or city university, they have purchasing power and are seeking value for money.

The provision of a positive student experience has become a competitive differentiator for universities, with students and their families now having easier access to information about the institutions, including data on retention, completion and employment outcomes. Levels of student satisfaction are visibly demonstrated by studies such as the National Student Survey.

The demographics of the student body have also changed, with providers now catering for a wide variety of backgrounds and personal circumstances. Mature students with family responsibilities, part-time students who are also at work, vocational courses with high placement-hours components, students living at home due to financial constraints—it’s a far cry from the traditional mass of 18 to 21-year-olds living on campus.

There’s a considerable challenge in enabling every member of the diverse student body to integrate and feel that they belong in a cohesive community. The much-talked-about positive student experience should encompass all aspects of student life, including academic and intellectual development, social and wellbeing welfare, and personal and leisure interests.

The term ‘sticky campus’ has been coined to describe the need to maintain a cohesive student community in the potentially fragmented student body. Getting the students to stick around, to participate fully in student life, can be especially difficult for city universities with widespread estates and students commuting long distances.

The quality of estates and facilities play a critical role in this emerging ethos of the sticky campus. Facilities need to be sufficiently appealing and to meet the widespread needs of students, if they are to be encouraged to linger for longer.

More and more universities are investing in student centres, a concept which did not exist for the previous generation of students. This is not the traditional student union building (though that function may well be included), but rather a flexible, multi-use environment for social interaction and eating, learning, and physical/emotional wellbeing support, essentially blurring the boundaries between learning and living spaces. It breaks down barriers between students from different faculties, students with different lifestyles, and makes it easier for them to access all the services they need.

Students are more likely to engage with the wellbeing and advisory services when these co-facilitate with learning and social spaces. It’s also a cost-effective solution, enabling sharing of meeting rooms, together with one-stop staffing and security costs.

Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) is one example of this approach, currently developing a new Student Life Building, as a one-stop-shop for all student-facing services, including:

  • Student advice and wellbeing services
  • Career advisory services
  • International exchanges and learning opportunities
  • A learning commons
  • Liverpool Students’ Union

Faithful+Gould is supporting LJMU with its Student Life Building. Having provided a multi-disciplinary team for the design stage of the project, we’re now providing project management, cost management and principal designer services for the construction phase. Following an archaeological investigation, ground works are now under way, with the project due to complete towards the end of 2020.

[i] https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/Pages/student-experience.aspx

 

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