Mental health: university estates should be ranked, design engineer says

A design engineering company says university applicants should be able to see how well students rate campuses for mental health

League tables should score university campuses for good mental health design, a leading design engineering company has suggested. 

In a white paper sent to government, universities and higher education league tables, BuroHappold Engineering recommended the move and urged universities to share best practice on campus design. 

Dr. Mike Entwisle, partner at the firm and board member of the UK Higher Education Design Quality Forum, said it was “inconceivable” that students do not have access to information on how well designed university campuses are for wellbeing. 

Current league tables allow students to review satisfaction with teaching standards, courses, and student to staff ratios so why not satisfaction with the built environment too?
– Mike Entwisle, BuroHappold Engineering

A 2019 report from Unite Students and the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) found that a quarter of first year students often or always felt lonely.

In a June 2019 roundtable report on mental health and building design, Oxford University’s head of counselling wrote: “Physical environments such as bedrooms and places of accommodation play a vital role in the psychological development of young adults. 

“Environments can encourage shared living and thriving communities where a friend is close to hand to talk over the stresses and challenges of student life which is so vital in preventing mental health problems arising.”


Read more: Action needed on unsustainable student residential model, report says


BuroHappold’s white paper follows consultation with vice-chancellors, estate directors and student welfare officers from fifteen English universities, and a survey of over 5,000 undergraduates. More than 40% of students polled for the firm considered their university facilities average or poor. 

The firm has vowed to engage the sector and government in devising a new ‘universal reporting system’ for universities to learn best practice from each other. 

Entwisle, who is the firm’s global higher education sector lead, said: “In a world where it is increasingly clear that the built environment can directly impact mental health and well-being, it is inconceivable that students do not have access to a universally accepted mechanism for assessing and comparing the state of a university’s buildings, the way they facilitate social interaction and their impact on mental health – whether that’s teaching facilities, student accommodation or the campus or city set-up as a whole. 

“Current league tables allow students to review satisfaction with teaching standards, courses, and student to staff ratios so why not satisfaction with the built environment too?” 

In July 2019, the British Property Federation (BPF) launched a mental health and wellbeing guide for the student accommodation sector. BPF’s report – The Student Wellbeing In Purpose-Built Student Accommodation Guide – did not address building design but said it was a critical consideration for university architects. 

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