Attracting international students is big business in the UK. In October the British Council predicted that the country would be one of the fastest-growing destinations for international students by 2024. In an increasingly competitive market, our higher education institutions will be looking at new ways to attract and maintain the overseas talent – a well thought-out campus design plays a crucial role in this. Students from places such as China and India choosing to make the UK their home are likely to face a culture shock – a well-designed campus environment can play a role in making the transition as smooth as possible so students quickly find themselves in a home from home.
Architects FaulknerBrowns are often approached by universities with briefs to overhaul their campus designs and bring a new lease of life to their existing premises. Of course, the company wants all its designs to make an impact and have a wow-factor – it’s these striking constructions that make the prospectus front covers. That said, architects also need to look beyond the impressive entrance design and the most up-to-date IT centre. Although these are essential for the initial student attraction, they won’t necessarily help a student settle and feel comfortable in their new surroundings.
A great example of how design touches and considerations can help increase rates of both retention and academic success is the recent Newcastle University and INTO University Partnerships project. Here, FaulknerBrowns was briefed to design a learning, living and social space that specifically takes the cultural needs of overseas students into account.
The £34million international study centre features a 3,000sqm state-of-the-art teaching facility, 537 bedrooms and comfortable communal spaces where students can socialise. The new teaching facility provides a combination of educational centre, learning resources, social learning spaces as well as dining and social facilities. Whilst part of the wider university campus, it also provides the hub of the wider international student centre with its own distinct identity as a base for student life. It also offers a flexible venue for socialising and holding events specifically organised for international students.
In terms of accommodation, a total of 452 new ensuite bed spaces have been provided, including standard rooms, larger ‘premium’ rooms, studios and staff flats which benefit from kitchenette facilities. This is supplemented by a further 85 refurbished bed spaces with a similar mix of accommodation types. A high percentage of the new bed spaces have been configured in the form of ‘twin-bed clusters’, providing two study bedrooms sharing a communal kitchenette and ensuite bathroom. This provides an attractive and innovative solution for overseas students promoting strong friendship bonds and peer support.
Other cultural design considerations focused on really specific attention to detail. For example, in Chinese culture, there are bad connotations with beds being positioned so that the occupants are facing the door. Designs were made to overcome this. Just a small point, perhaps, but one which may hugely help students settling into studies in a new country.
In conclusion this project focused on the detail and not just the big picture. Building design can and should have a very important role to play in an institution’s success. Campus infrastructure must be at the forefront of every university strategy if it wants to stand out from the competition, increase its number of international students and grow its global presence.
Andrew Kane is a partner and higher education specialist at FaulknerBrowns Architects W:www.faulknerbrowns.co.uk