An evolution in learning

CAMPUS SPOTLIGHT: The University of Bedfordshire invests in a facility that makes sure it meets its students’ ever-changing needs

The traditional view of a library is an outdated one; a book warehouse where even a whisper is frowned upon. Even the mere mention of the word ‘library’ can evoke notions of long, overnight slogs fuelled by caffeine. But the landscape is changing and the future is here. Contemporary libraries that cater for studiousness as well as more modern methods of learning will soon be in vogue.

To that end, the University of Bedfordshire has invested in a facility that makes sure it meets the ever-changing and future needs of its students. Designed to provide a new hub for the University’s four campuses, encourage reading and boost employability, the £46m building is set to provide a new focal point for Luton, the University and its well established student experience. An evolution in learning is underway. 

‘In the recent National Student Survey (NSS) published this August, 83% of Bedfordshire’s 2015 graduates gave the University their seal of approval, ensuring Bedfordshire is a top-10 university for improving the student experience’

Diverse facilities

For the past five years, the University of Bedfordshire has been constantly expanding and improving its cross-county settings. From the flagship hub of the Luton campus, the £34m Campus Centre, to state-of-the-art accommodation and Postgraduate Centre, as well as the ever-growing University Campus Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire continues to transform into a regional hotbed of employable talent.

ABOVE: Fitzroy Court accommodation 

What’s more, all brand new builds target a BREEAM excellent rating; one of the key reasons why Bedfordshire earned First Class Honours and a top-15 ranking in the People and Planet Green League 2015.

With the £25m Gateway at the Bedford campus the most recent major build to be completed, the new library is the latest in the series of investments in facilities at the University. It’s not about replicating those longstanding connotations of what a library should be; it’s a case of catering for every type of learner. Supplementing that, the environment and atmosphere of the library have been developed to replicate the workplace.

In the era of vivas and interviews galore, presentation skills are a commendable and essential asset, a necessity for students wishing to not only succeed at university, but also turn their contemporary education into employment.

As such, the nine-level library will house five presentation rooms, in addition to ‘mood room’ type areas surrounded by panoramic windows to get the creative juices flowing.

Innovative teaching spaces – not normally associated with a library – will be a mainstay, including one featuring plectrum-style worktops with a large screen at one end and a keyboard at the other, to encourage a collegiate structure of learning.

There will be a number of breakout spaces and pods, with both social and industry magazines dotted around (and some even utilised as art installations) to maintain the importance of reading. Student support services will be available in the more social areas of the building, creating an informal environment that isn’t daunting for a student looking for advice. And of course, a cafeteria on the ground floor, a huge boon for those who wish to set up camp in the library and not have to travel for nourishment.

Students from the ground up

Innovation is meaningless, however, unless new facilities meet the demands of students.  To make certain that was adhered to, students formed a key part of the library’s development.

Student representatives took a frontal role from day one, attending key meetings and offering their voice whenever necessary. And when it came to the nitty-gritty, such as how to handle the security of and access to the building, student-dominated focus groups were held to inform the decision. It’s a demonstration of the importance the University of Bedfordshire places on the student experience. With a community of 22,000 students from over 120 different countries, it is vital that a vast range of student voices is heard, and that the experience they have at Bedfordshire reflects that voice.

The University prides itself on listening to and implementing the views and opinions of its students; even ensuring that the Students’ Union are represented on all the main University committees.

One way the University listens to its students is by running an annual campaign called ‘You Said We Did’. The campaign has already had a major effect on University policy, with the Vice-Chancellor pledging his support to do everything realistically possible to improve students’ experience of University life.

Since ‘You Said We Did’ began, numerous initiatives have been implemented, including increasing the library opening times to all hours, opening a new student bar and social hub; and ensuring students get more one-to-one contact time.

This focus has had a positive effect on the experience students have when at the University. Indeed, in the recent National Student Survey (NSS) published this August, 83% of Bedfordshire’s 2015 graduates gave the University their seal of approval, ensuring Bedfordshire is a top-10 university for improving the student experience. Meanwhile, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) commended the University for its enhancement of student learning opportunities – the highest rating possible.

The University has also seen a gradual rise across the League Tables; in the 2015 Guardian University Guide it rose 17 places, making Bedfordshire a top-10 riser in the country, while in the Complete University Guide it rose by seven places. 

Researching success

A huge part of providing an outstanding student experience is to offer an education that is as contemporary, wide ranging and well informed as possible. It is therefore imperative that the body of research being produced and collated by the University’s multi-discipline academics is made available to students and informs their learning.

‘Almost half of the University’s research was rated as world leading or internationally excellent – the highest ratings possible’

As such, all of Bedfordshire’s researchers are also lecturers, a circumstance that ensures teaching methods and material are underpinned by the University’s work into issues important to society, such as healthcare, child sexual exploitation, and cybercrime. As an indication of the impactful nature of Bedfordshire’s research, the University’s successful 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) results are a case in point.

Almost half of the University’s research was rated as world leading or internationally excellent – the highest ratings possible. As a result, a rise of 22 places in the REF Power Ranking subsequently occurred. In particular, the University was praised for its work into Health, Computer Science and Social Work and Social Policy, with the latter category placing Bedfordshire in the upper quartile of all universities across the country. English Language and Literature was also singled out, with all of the University’s work into that area rated as having world-leading impact, beating both Oxford and Cambridge.

The broad-ranging success the University achieved in the REF ensured a top-two largest proportional increase in research funding nationwide, adding to 2013’s Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for pioneering research into child sexual exploitation.

A focus on students

Bedfordshire is proud to be a university that is blazing a trail in widening access to higher education with an ambition to ensure all students are able to achieve their full potential. The student-staff ratio has improved significantly, courses are driven by world-leading research and more of Bedfordshire’s students than ever are leaving with good honours.

Ultimately, Bedfordshire has a focus on the journey, the opportunities and the experience students have while at university.

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