Who can ever forget the wonderful feeling of walking out of their final school exam on a summer’s day? No more revision and a couple of months, at least, to savour. As this year’s A levels end, students will look forward to their results in August and then, for a significant proportion, to life at university.
For many, it will be their first move away from home and is a daunting experience. It is not surprising that many find this transition difficult. The recent Advance HE-HEPI Student Academic Experience Survey 2022 highlighted that higher education can be a lonely place, with nearly one in four students respondents saying they felt lonely ‘all’ or ‘most’ of the time.
Clearly, purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA), in terms of its operation and design, has a massive part to play in helping students overcome such feelings.
Indeed, accommodation often sets the tone for a student’s experience. Arriving at their hall of residence is the first port of call prior to any activity on campus in a typical freshers’ week.
There is, however, one aspect that those of my age (59, before you ask) did not have to face, and that is social media. Today’s students face an influx of news from home and from their home-based friendship group, many of whom will appear to be having a great time at their universities even though they may be experiencing the same anxieties.
Many universities and companies managing PBSA do a superb job of welcoming new student cohorts with events to ensure there is an opportunity to make new friends, but there remains the tricky issue of design.
In recent years, the number of studios being provided has risen significantly, driven by higher investment returns. There are 102,656 studios, according to Cushman & Wakefield data – a figure that continues to rise. This means many students are now in a position whereby they arrive and do not need to mix, isolating themselves from other residents.
Clearly there is a role for studios, particularly for more mature postgraduates who value that self-contained space and can manage themselves accordingly, but is it the right type of room for a first-year undergraduate or indeed an international student arriving in the country for a one-year masters course? Do we really understand the impact that the choice of room type can have on student satisfaction and, more importantly, on course completion?
Students will continue to spend more time in their digs as blended learning models come to the fore. Other design aspects such as flexible, attractive study spaces are now seen by many students as a key ingredient of high-quality accommodation.
Integrating social benefits in PBSA design can play a significant role in ensuring feelings of loneliness and isolation can be reduced. Social engineering, for want of a better phrase, needs to be actioned at the design level.
Paddy Jackman is director of university partnerships at Campus Living Villages UK