For many students, their choice of University will be down to a number of key factors such as academic results, employability after graduation and the student experience – an increasingly important element in the decision-making process.
This mirrors research we have undertaken at Bidwells which identifies four key challenges that higher education establishments face in trying to attract students: enhancing the student experience, embracing the teaching excellence framework, dealing with stagnant budgets and making the most of current assets.
So as today’s prospective students want to know that they’re going to get their money’s worth, what can institutions do to ensure they enhance the student experience and stand-out from the rest?
From a property perspective, making the most of your current assets should be a high priority since your students will come into contact with them every day.
Successful institutions respond to the changes in student and teaching requirements, which doesn’t always mean bright shiny new buildings, but really making sure that space is being used in the best or on-trend way and to do so you will need to ask regularly if they are still fit for purpose. There are many ways you can adapt existing facilities to meet new and emerging requirements, such as providing flexible and multi-use spaces.
Viewing your assets flexibly is critical as the cost and speed of adapting spaces is cheaper and faster than new builds
Bidwells is currently working with one educational establishment which has flexible teaching rooms, a hub of spaces for social or quiet study and a rooftop multi-games area. It’s just one example of how institutions are looking at their space differently.
Another organisation has re-engineered an outlying property to provide enhanced space for its 400-strong central administration service. The building vacated is now planned to be redeveloped, partly to deliver a long-term capital receipt but also in the short-term to provide overspill student use as it is in a central city location.
Just think, how many small awkward buildings you know which now are home to a quirky café!
Viewing your assets flexibly is critical as the cost and speed of adapting spaces is cheaper and faster than new builds. You can also look to capitalise on the fringe buildings for back office use – ultimately the students are the customer and you should always be thinking of how to prioritise for them.
Communicating with students is essential to let them know about changes to the buildings and facilities so that they are onboard with new developments. Social media can play a key role in this – and, if done in a positive way, it can enhance your cause as they share news and comment on the great buildings and spaces in which they study and live.
The successful establishments will have internal teams that recognise change is top of the agenda, whether it is driven by government or student demand. Reacting to change is not new for this sector, but it has to be done at an ever-increasing pace.
Changing investment horizons will need bold leadership and an understanding of what success now looks like and how they can communicate it effectively to potential customers – students!
Matt Bigam is Bidwells’ Higher Education Partner, Building Consultancy, Planning and Development.