Boosting the built environment

Paul Jagger, partner at Farrell & Clark, gives us his advice on the changing dynamics of student facilities and accommodation

As Freshers’ Weeks come to an end, and the serious business of studying begins for new and returning students, they must be struck by the transformational physical changes evident across many of our leading campuses.

Universities have always been excellent at sharing information and using each other as catalysts for change. However, the current race for students and the financial implications of growth or decline, are focusing the attention of those involved in the built environment towards a more competitive approach to creating an appealing estate.

Last month’s article on the University of Leeds’ £500m campus investment programme (main image) stresses the importance of improving the student experience whilst also improving teaching and research facilities. There is an open acknowledgement that there is a financially critical need to attract students which places each university in direct competition with each other. At our leading universities, academic standing will continue to be the main driving force for recruitment, but for many others the built estate will be a major factor in the decision-making process. The results of student league tables and the sharing of feedback over social media will soon sway students to favour campuses which are praised by their peers.

Whilst major universities have now grown sufficiently confident to embark on significant investment programmes there is also an underlying message which is providing justification for a raft of smaller refurbishment and new construction projects. Following the great age of university building, many hold an extensive building stock which is both visually dated and practically substandard. Undergraduates are paying significant fees and are becoming more aware of the quality and value for money they receive in exchange for their not insignificant debts. The academic quality of the courses on offer must be supported by the quality of the spaces they use for living, learning and working. Therefore, poor standard lecture rooms and minimal social or learning facilities are not acceptable, particularly when they contrast with facilities other students have access to on the same campus. Stark differences between new and old facilities and between one department and another become more apparent when you are being charged for the privilege of education.

‘The built estate will be a major factor in the (student’s) decision making process’

Leeds Trinity University is continuing to grow its on-site residential accommodation in scale and quality as a fundamental prerequisite for growth. A new residential block is currently on site which enhances and refines the successes of its last residential development. Universities are investing in upgrading teaching rooms so students experience a more consistent quality across campus with the latest AV systems. The more adventurous are exploring more innovative teaching techniques encouraging group or team learning. Investments in resource centres such as at the University of Bradford and the expansion of social learning spaces continue to be strong themes, seen as being key to improving the student experience.

ABOVE: Leeds Trinity University

It is a refreshing development to see more universities taking account of the desires of their undergraduates when considering the development of their estate. It will be interesting to see over the coming years if a clear correlation develops between a lack of investment in student-focused facilities and declining or failing universities.

Leeds-based architects, Farrell & Clark, have been involved with over 250 complex campus projects for northern universities including Bradford, York, Manchester, Hull, Huddersfield, Sheffield Hallam and Leeds Trinity University.  Add to this 75 projects for the University of Leeds, valued at over £90 m, which forms part of an impressive £370m worth of projects in the educational building sector, and you can see why Farrell & Clark are architects with a reputation for delivering quality and consistency.


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