Are university campuses a thing of the past?
Why do students need to gather together in expensive buildings when they can interact with the university and their fellow students on line?
In an increasingly digital world, it is tempting to think of the traditional university campus being outdated and potentially redundant. However, research among students and universities has shown that the reverse is true.
While campuses may need to be more flexible and incorporate technology into the way that students and staff communicate, they are far from finished. Students are happy to live in a digital world, but they also want to live in shared spaces, with easy to access staff and their academic tutors.
There is no such thing as the ideal campus as so many nationalities, religions, disability, ethnicities ages and more have to be catered for. However, being flexible in the use of technology and space allows for these differences to be recognised, but also can encourage integration between students, staff and indeed the local community. Students form an emotional link with the university, their own community and that outside the walls of academia.
Communal living is a very important aspect of university life, students are moving away from their home environment and community. Accordingly, accommodation is moving away from a model of self-contained studios with en-suite bathrooms, to ten and six bedroom clusters which share sitting rooms or common rooms, bathrooms and kitchens.
On a practical level, this model helps reduce costs for both the university and students; however, it also encourages students to mingle, to get to know one another and form relationships that may last far into their future. They develop their own support networks and social circles.
At Sodexo, we recognise that for a happy community to be achieved, its team on site needs to understand the students, what they want and what they need. This can only be achieved by getting to know them so as well as the normal surveys and feedback sessions. One of the key priorities within our Student Living offer is to ensure that every single member of the team get to know the students personally, to be approachable and to listen to what they have to say and to act upon it when necessary. To support this ethos, we have a dedicated Student Experience Manager on site whose role is to ensure students wellbeing.
Campus planners of today seek to create villages or neighbourhoods that are almost a micro-version of the outside world. They have different sized houses and flats with different facilities according to need, financial cost, and physical requirements. Some are self-contained, some have shared facilities and all share common town ‘features’. There is an administrative centre which equates to the town hall; a communications centre acting like a post office, security, a library, the students’ union bar or local pub. There are restaurants, cafes, food carts, all providing additional spaces to meet and interact. These community structures, with a communal hub, give students a sense of place and of belonging.
Campus planning does not just mean building from scratch, old buildings often help build the best communities. Many were built with shared accommodation and communal facilities can be adapted to today’s students’ needs cost effectively.
In some sites, Sodexo has worked alongside universities to refurbish reception and communal spaces where there is 24/7 support available, a blended environment that allows students to mix with one another and feel closer to staff. Colours, the use of light and layout of furniture and fixtures are specially selected and designed to ease mental health and facilitate communication.
At Northumbria University, a research-rich, business-focused university with a global reputation for academic excellence we manage all of the university’s student accommodation, housing over 3,000 students in seven different accommodation suites. Services provided by our 55-strong team, working across the eight housing suites include: 24/7 security, reception and helpdesk, energy management, mechanical and electrical maintenance, cleaning and horticultural services.
Since starting our partnership in 2014 we have transformed the way in which Northumbria University manages its student accommodation, updating systems and processes to improve the standard of the buildings and delivering a much-improved student experience. As a result, 90% of students say they are ‘very satisfied’ with the accommodation and Northumbria has been recognised in the 2017 Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey’s top 10 universities for its facilities.
Looking after over 3,000 young adults, most of who are away from home for the first time, is a huge responsibility. With student retention a key issue for universities, it is important that students have a smooth transition into university and fully integrate into the student community.
We focus on supporting students throughout the whole university journey – from pre-arrival and arrival, to living and departure. We strive to create a supportive, home-from-home environment taking the time to listen to students, take an interest in what they are doing and to foster a sense of community.
We go beyond delivering just FM services through our Student Living offer we provide a broad range of support services from health and wellbeing, employability skills, community engagement as well as arranging social activities designed to help students interact and make connections. Our aim is to help students succeed during their university career and after graduation.
Looking outside the campus, Sodexo has long recognised the need to act in partnership with external stakeholders such as police and fire services, charities and local councils. Creating strong relationships with them means that any responses on the campus are aligned with stakeholder programmes, in order to improve experiences in accommodation, mental and physical well-being, security, library services, bars and cafes etc.
Working with these agencies not only helps Sodexo support students, but also means that they can be further educated in how to deal with living independently and behave in a way that keeps them safe and maintains good relationships in their community.
While students are encouraged to meet, support one another and create friendships, they still need support from staff. The most important element in creating a community is service and an understanding of student needs.
Sodexo works with universities to create an environment where they feel more comfortable, where staff have been specially trained and have the correct experience that allows them to anticipate and meet the needs of students, help teach them life skills and support them outside curriculum activities.
A blend of experienced staff and efficient technology sits at the heart of the approach and the delivery of a ‘Living Learning Environment’, an environment and community that will take students through their time at university and prepare them for the future in the outside world.