In with the new

How are universities updating their offering for the new academic year? Hannah Bellis explores the investments raising standards

When George Osbourne announced plans to scrap the cap on student numbers for the intake on 2015/16 in his autumn statement of 2013, the news was positively received, in the hope of an end to the demand for higher education exceeding the supply of places, and producing the skilled workforce demanded by modern economies. But the real result of that decision will be seen over the next few years as both publicly-funded and alternative higher education institutions will be free to take as many students as they like.

ABOVE: Utilising facilities put in place for London’s Olympic Games, Loughborough University is branching out to create Loughborough University London

For establishments with large campuses that offer a lot of space, this is great news – they have space to expand to cope with increasing student numbers, and no limit on the number of tuition fee incomes they can use to fund that expansion. But for city centre establishment or locations where property and land prices are high and space is at a premium, or establishments looking to build on new opportunities and locations, what creative solutions can be employed to maximise what can be offered to the student body?

For the University of West London, it wasn’t just space that was short, but power – a £50m upgrade to their Ealing campus ready for the intake of September 2015 addresses a low voltage infrastructure by upgrading all existing facilities and also creating a new Heart Space following a 19-month improvement programme. The refurb created their Future Campus facilities, offering students up-to-date high tech and energy-efficient spaces while maximising the useable space on the campus’ existing footprint.

“The Future Campus project is part our vision to continually improve students’ learning and their social experience.’ Peter John, Vice-Chancellor, University of West London.

“The Future Campus project is part our vision to continually improve students’ learning and their social experience,” said Vice-Chancellor Peter John. “We have worked closely with the Students’ Union and student representatives throughout the process to ensure that the student experience is at the heart of the project.”

Loughborough University takes a very different approach. Their campus is in the East Midlands, but utilising facilities put in place for London’s Olympic games they are branching out to create Loughborough University London, opening for its first student intake in September 2015. This postgraduate academic campus sits on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, home of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The site, known as Here East, is bringing together an emerging breed of innovators and digital makers through education, business, technology and media to drive forward creativity and entrepreneurship across London. “Students based at the London campus will learn from the most influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators and will be exposed to the very latest in thinking within their discipline,” said Mike Caine, Dean of Loughborough University London.

He added: “By engaging with leading public and private sector companies and cutting-edge local organisations, their studies will be led by real-life industry challenges, and the projects they work on will bring direct benefits to society.”

The University of Bristol had an undergraduate population of 13,171 for 2011/12. Since then, this has increased by some 800 students per year to 15,843 for 2014/15. Their priority for welcoming new students for 2015/16 has been refining and developing their Welcome Week offering to students, with ‘Unismart’ presentations for new undergraduates, providing essential information about university life and how to cope with some of its challenges. They are taking a creative approach to their city centre location, redeveloping a former large furniture store to become Beacon House – a flagship new facility containing 350 additional study spaces, a cafe and a large reception space for students and visitors to the University. Work is due to be completed in spring 2016.

ABOVE: The University of Bristol has been investing in upgrading student facilities and states for a number of years

Renovation of their former Geographical Sciences Library as new learning hub for 120 students should be completed for this September at the cost of £750,000, and last year they made a £25m investment in 330 new bed spaces adjacent to the existing Hiatt Baker Hall at Stoke Bishop, together with a new public transport hub for student bus and coach services.

The University has negotiated agreements with established student accommodation providers for 800 extra en suite study bedrooms in the city centre, together with extensive social and study space. Future projects include a proposed extension to the Queen’s Building to allow for further growth in undergraduate and postgraduate student numbers and a major renovation and remodelling of Grade-II listed The Fry Building, to consolidate the maths department in a way that allows scope for expansion – both are tentatively planned for spring 2017.

Professor Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, said: “Being a university in the centre of a city, and owning many historic buildings, brings its own challenges but we’ve got a strong track record of working with planners and architects to ensure successful and popular projects. The expansion has meant that even more top students are coming to Bristol. The refurbishment of libraries, creation of new study spaces and improvement to accommodation are top priorities to ensure all our students have the best possible learning environment and experience while studying here.”

‘The refurbishment of libraries, creation of new study spaces and improvement to accommodation are top priorities to ensure all our students have the best possible learning environment and experience while studying here.” Professor Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol.

The University of Nottingham and Falmouth have adopted The Study Bed Company’s innovative design solution to maximise what can be offered in student accommodation while taking up less floor space. “Because of the fold-up bed and desk combination, students are able to have a much larger desk than normal, as well as a larger bed because of the clever space-saving design,” said Study Bed Managing Director Ben Berry.

“The beds can be finished in absolutely any colour and a highly practical and attractive full-size notice board can be attached in front of the desk,” he explained. “We’ve just introduced a very practical mobile double-sided bookcase which fits beneath the desk, but easily wheel outs to become a bedside table; these give about 160cm of additional adjustable shelving space.”

This innovative designs lets rooms which could only house a single student serve as a double with each occupant still enjoying a personal sleeping and working area. Award-winning architectural design practice FaulknerBrowns architects have taken this concept even further. “With interest so strong in the student accommodation sector FaulknerBrowns have carried out research on the student lifestyle experience,” said Andrew Kane, Partner at FaulknerBrowns.

“A new model of student bedroom which we’ve called The Student Bedroom of Tomorrow examines the way in which clever storage solutions, IT and display materials can transform the quality and effectiveness of the student bed space. Rather than looking 20 years into the future the concept explores a new approach that can be delivered tomorrow within a 13.5 sq m bedroom of standard proportions. Smart furniture helps release a useable floor zone equivalent to a third of the overall area to make not only the quality of environment better but also to provide the potential for new activities such as group working and virtual working. This Bedroom of Tomorrow has been incorporated into a number of template design solutions to illustrate how it can be configured as either shared bathrooms, en suite bathrooms, cluster flats, townhouses or studio apartments.”


ABOVE: A student bedroom from the Tomorrow Concept range

FaulknerBrowns’ work with The Forge in Newcastle upon Tyne expands the concept even further with a modular system, constructed elsewhere and quickly assembled on site. “The Forge utilises a fully volumetric modular solution to deliver 200 high-quality bed spaces,” added Kane. “All of the internal accommodation is constructed from modular box units pre-fitted and assembled on site. This fast-track construction solution will be operational in September 2015 helping to meet the requirements of local universities. Many institutions are refining their strategic approach to the new higher education world of high fee-paying students, high expectations and unregulated student choice. Perhaps executive teams are reflecting on the intake patterns over recent years and, with steady growth in the economy, have renewed confidence to invest in their built estates as part of their strategic development plans.”

The growing number of full-time students with government predictions currently standing at around 60,000 per year is leading establishments to invest in their facilities to improve the quality of their learning environment and lifestyle support through sports, cultural and student centres. Whether this will produce the highly educated and skilled workforce the government are hoping for remains to be seen, but there is cautious optimism and the university construction sector is strong and growing by the day. 

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