Sticky campuses

Julie Barker – director of College and University Business Officers (CUBO), former chair of TUCO, and founder of Julie Barker Consultants, explores ‘sticky campuses’ and the changing face of campus’ services as facilities look to work harder to fit the growing philosophy of ‘one size no longer fits all’

If we take the words of the universities minister, who delivered a speech recently at Wonkhe’s the Secret Life of Students event, Chris Skidmore said: “It is essential we don’t lose sight of the needs, and expectations, of students.”

The minister challenged universities to think about how “they could improve the student journey for all participants across transition, university experience and progression”.

It’s a challenge that universities are happy to accept and as university officers know only too well, there are a multitude of different student experiences across campus to be factored into today’s thinking alongside the commercial realities of campus management.

Increasingly, we talk about campuses becoming ‘sticky’. This new concept, that didn’t exist a decade ago, means the evolution of campuses in developing a wider identity from within. It means creating new spaces (or redesigning old spaces), which can become the background to the best student experience and is where the traditional and separate elements of ‘living’ and ‘learning’ become inextricably intertwined. Put simply, it’s where students want to ‘stick’.

Of course, the word ‘best’ is arguable in its definition. But as students become more empowered over their choice of universities, it has become clear that they are opting for sites which appeal to them socially, aesthetically, and emotionally as well as academically. No longer is the decision process taken solely around academia and teaching spaces and facilities.

Instead, we are finding that the informal aspects to residence life has increasingly become the pivotal factor in creating flexibility, and delivering an enjoyable and individual experience, which today’s student expects – and indeed – demands.

And CUBO members are at the forefront of driving change. Universities are deploying new thinking and engaging new talent to look at how they make their space work for them.

One such success story is the University of Edinburgh which has taken a progressive approach to its dining areas. Each dining area (whether coffee shop or full-service restaurant) now invites a new user experience with informal meeting areas, sofas, tables with benches – Wagamama style – alongside a high-street retail offer, which is where a student’s experience is first formed. All places where the student, teacher or visitor can eat, work, socialise or share with informality and enjoyment. For example, take the Levels Cafe and Restaurant where you will find communities relaxing together – some with headphones listening to music – others sharing coffee culture at its best.

Investment in contemporary and new thinking is key to the future, and architects are enjoying a growing focus and value within the future of universities across how to shape the facilities of the future. Architect Helen Young has written about this very subject saying that another interesting tangent to this approach is the value that universities are placing on external landscape areas – widening the viewpoint from just buildings to the spaces between them. This may be to create gathering areas such as amphitheatres, informal seating in a protected microclimate, or just attractive soft landscaping, but with a view to tying the identity of the campus together.

As the leading association which represents best practice across campus services, CUBO is launching a major research initiative that will focus strongly on the student living and residential experience, with a view to looking at how campuses are becoming ‘sticky’ and highlighting trends, delivering valued insights and exploring best practice to support learning and value-add across the 300-strong university membership.
The launch of CUBO’s Campus Experience Survey 2019 is just one step in a dynamic, ongoing annual research programme that the association is developing and implementing to benefit its members. It is hoped that the majority of CUBO’s members will participate in the survey giving comprehensive data sets which will help universities shape their services for the future, whilst also providing a valuable reference point for supply partners and stakeholders. Findings will be published later in 2019 and form an important part of how Residence Life is changing.

The CUBO’ Campus Experience Survey comes on the heels of CUBO’s Residence Life Conference (7–8 May) held at Holywell Park, Loughborough University (to include the Residence Life Awards 2019) which will also explore the issues facing universities as they develop their campus services, exploring elements such as the forgotten side of pastoral support, the importance of mental health, sleep study and screen time, and overcoming challenges.

As Chris Skidmore says, “Students’ time at university should be seen as some of the best days of their lives,” – it involves providers thinking about how they are going to provide different students with the tailored support that they need across diverse communities.

And today universities will be looking at how they invest in the infrastructure and services of the future, to maintain, and build, on the UK’s reputation as providing some of the best higher education facilities in the world.

To find out more about CUBO, visit:

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