A Collaboration Friendly Estate is Key for "Industry-ready" Students

Gill Smith
The UK's higher education sector is becoming ever more competitive. It’s no longer simply the case that the traditional, high profile universities will automatically attract the best undergraduates because of their academic reputations.

With most university fees at £9,000 a year – and some rising to £9,250 in 2017 – the priority for many students is not simply to graduate with a good degree, but to be seen as highly employable.

Take a look at recent university league tables and you'll see that the employability of a university's students has become a key metric and one that they highlight in their prospectuses. With graduates entering the workplace with as much as £50,000 of debt after their degree, a well-paid career with good promotion prospects is highly prized.

Forward thinking universities have realised that their students' success is not just about studying a practical degree but about flexible application of knowledge and skills. Collaboration, whether it's with other departments within their establishment or with local and national companies, is key. This collaboration, however, is not just cerebral but physical as well and impacts the way higher education establishments plan for the future of their estates.

Collaboration, whether it's with other departments within their establishment or with local and national companies, is key. 

Universities are adapting their teaching methods to suit the needs of the latest generation of students and traditional classroom or lecture theatre based teaching is making way for more flexible and interactive learning techniques. There's a pressing need to recognise, and provide spaces to facilitate, this new way of working.

The University of Salford is a prime example. It's currently developing four new Industry Collaboration Zones (ICZs), with planning permission for the first of these, awarded earlier this year. The Engineering & Environment ICZ is a £16m project focused around an extension to the existing Newton Building, which houses the School of Computing, Science and Engineering and demonstrates an innovative new way of thinking around university estates.

At the heart of the extension is a 'maker-space' which will house 3D printing facilities, a water-jet cutter, two laser cutters, a co-ordinate measuring machine (CMM) and two CNC milling machines. These facilities offer practical benefits across the wider university and to industry partners, opening the way for collaborative learning, research and development.

These facilities offer practical benefits across the wider university and to industry partners, opening the way for collaborative learning, research and development.

Co-located with this space will be an exhibition area to display engineering solutions as well as demonstration and open-plan collaborative learning spaces. The extension will also house informal and formal presentation spaces, as well as state of the art electronics laboratory facilities.

This approach will enable students and prospective employers to exchange ideas, share knowledge and develop relationships that could result in work experience, internships and even full-time employment.

Open-plan learning spaces provide the opportunity for both formal and informal collaboration, not just within a particular department but across disciplines. The Industry Collaboration Zone enables engineering students to work with a huge range of potential partners from designers and environmentalists to media students and health organisations.

Research projects for companies and institutions are a vital source of income for higher education establishments as well as providing a platform to attract high performing students. 

In addition to the collaborative learning spaces, the research and demonstration areas in the University of Salford's Newton Building extension will benefit both the University and local, national and, potentially, international businesses. Research projects for companies and institutions are a vital source of income for higher education establishments as well as providing a platform to attract high performing students. For businesses, university research and product development can be cost-effective for companies without their own in-house facilities; bringing fresh ideas and insight from imaginative, creative minds and generating kudos for the firm while introducing potential future employees. Dyson, for example, harnesses expertise and facilities in the Salford Acoustics Research Group to develop its pioneering quiet appliances.

Faithful+Gould is working with the University of Salford on several of its capital projects and is delivering project management, cost management and health and safety services on this influential scheme.

Education is changing and in an environment where competition for both the best students and outside finance and influence is fierce, a university's estate plays a key role. It needs to be modern, flexible, student and industry friendly and allow for the collaboration that will produce the best results and give graduates the best opportunities in a competitive job market.

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