ASRA 2016: student health and wellbeing takes centre stage

How do we ensure all is well with each and every student during their time at university? Rebecca Paddick heads to ASRA's 2016 conference to find out

I love it when a conference has a clear theme. Not only does it give me something to talk about when it’s time to writing the review, it also gives the event focus, momentum and a clear purpose. A great example of this was this year’s Association for Student Residential Accommodation (ASRA) conference. It’s reoccurring topic for 2016 was very much on the importance of student health and wellbeing during their time at university.

 

‘Despite being a supplier on all University frameworks, this was the first time Godfrey Syrett had exhibited at ASRA. We were very satisfied with the result as it gave us an opportunity to explain the unique features of  “Work, Rest and Play” accommodation furniture range in detail and gain valuable feedback and leads from all the visitors to our stand” David Hall – Godfrey Syrett Accomodation Furniture

Held at the Europa hotel in Belfast, ASRA welcomed more than 350 delegates to its annual gathering. Known as the largest student accommodation conference in the UK and Ireland, organisers broke new ground this year in hosting the 2016 event in Northern Ireland for the first time.

Meade the mind reader

This year’s event got off to a flying start thanks to keynote speaker David Meade, a Northern Ireland-based lecturer in international business as well as a mentalist and international speaker.

ASRA presents a unique opportunity for potential partners to showcase their services to the university accommodation sector and more importantly to meet with and establish relationships. Conversations in a relaxed environment are valuable for both the universities and companies and provide for a better understanding of what the accommodation sector needs and what companies must to do to ensure their services meet those needs. We will definitely be returning in 2017, thanks ASRA.” Mike JonesManaging DirectorYourguarantor 

As well as discussing some top-level management research, David’s fun and interactive seminar also shared some simple techniques we could all apply to improve sales, decision making and communication skills. David even threw in a little mindreading ­– I heard some delegates still wondering how he did it two days later! 

Train to gain 

Attendees also had the opportunity to take part in over 40 training sessions, covering all areas of student accommodation management, including legal advisory updates, residence life development, mental health advisory sessions, student money matters, customer service and many supplier showcase sessions. 

Always a favourite with the ASRA crowd, is the Campuslife session. This year, MD Simon Horniblow delivered the light-hearted yet informative chat. In keeping with this year’s conference theme, Simon talked about the importance of student welfare schemes on campus and explained his involvement with Sheffield University’s Residence Life Portal, a central online hub where students keep up to date with what’s going on at their accommodation.

“It was great to see all the ASRA delegates and exhibitors in the lovely surrounding of Belfast.  The conference was most insightful and as always the evenings were very enjoyable.  I’m already looking forward to Brighton in 2017.” David Johnson, Student Accommodation Manager, Endsleigh Insurance Services

‘This year’s conference in Belfast was really great. We noticed Residence Life programmes being discussed a lot, it seemed like quite the hot topic,” said Simon. 

It’s really positive to see the sector looking at how we can better engage our student communities and enrich their experience whilst in our accommodation.”

On the second day of the conference I headed up to the Europa Hotel’s Penthouse for a joint presentation from student accommodation managers Liberty Living, and ASRA favourite Red Brick Research. The talk, entitled Project SASHA – The Science of Student Happiness, discussed an initiative which uses pioneering research techniques to help universities understand and manage the different needs and requirements of their diverse student population.

‘From an exhibitor’s perspective, the opportunity to showcase our unique product to key personnel from such a Nationwide range of institutions, makes this event absolutely essential as part of our wider marketing programme; the interest and leads we achieved will keep us very busy for a long time to come.’ Ben BerryThe StudyBed Company.

“In recent years, due to the growth of the UK HE sector, universities have had to deal with hyper diversity – we now have a very diverse student population,” said Tim Daplyn, Managing Director of Red Brick Research.   

“One of the ways we deal with that is by researching what these different types of student are, and what their specific requirements are. We particularly focused on the diverse personality types among students, and we quickly realised that by looking deeper into individual traits, we could actually work a lot smarter when it came to student accommodation allocations.”

From this realisation, Project SASHA (Specialised Algorithm for Student Housing Allocation) was created. “The insertion of a few questions adds maybe 30 seconds to Liberty Living’s whole booking nominations process, yet it can potentially determine if students have a great time in their accommodation,” explained Tim.

Exhibitor success 

As well as the training sessions and supplier showcases, there were also an impressive number of industry suppliers at the exhibition. The student health and wellbeing theme even spilled over here, with many educational suppliers discussing their support for schemes which ensure students are happy and healthy during their time at university. “We recognise that our customers have a duty of care to their residents who, in many cases, are living away from home for the first time. Recognising that this can make them vulnerable and having the tools to help identify those at risk and provide appropriate help and support are critical to student success,” said John Gledhill, Director of European Operations, at StarRez, who were exhibiting and speaking at the event.

“ASRA continues to grow, making it a great experience for us to meet with potential and existing clients.   We especially appreciated the opportunity to showcase our Mercury product during the educational component of the conference.” Andrew Tanner, RMS 

“The 2016 Asra conference in Belfast was a major success. It is a great city which gave a warm welcome to over 350 delegates and 115 exhibitors,” said ASRA Chair Karen Burke.

“It was great to see so many enthusiastic members enjoying participating in an excellent training programme and evening networking events and if there is one message that I would like our members to take away it is that Asra is your association so don’t be afraid to get involved.” 

“As an exhibitor, ASRA is a fantastic opportunity to promote our products and services to prospective cliental.  This year proved to be extremely successful, generating a large amount of interest and more importantly new contacts. It also provides a great networking event and a chance to showcase our latest innovative solutions to the university sector.” Richard Eastburn, Sales & Marketing Manager at Assa Abloy

W: www.asra.ac.uk