The changing attitudes of millennial students

AUDE Chair and Director of Estates at the University of Surrey, Trevor Humphreys, discusses the millennial student experience

Drinking, organised pub crawls and social club fairs, it must be fresher’s week, or is it? William Richardson, the general secretary of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, recently stated many students would prefer to begin their studies in the first week of university rather than undertake the traditional fresher’s week, full of late night drinking, partying and sore heads.

Although based on subjective accounts, this news comes as no surprise to AUDE. Our most recent annual student experience survey found students are placing more and more emphasis on courses and learning facilities over social spaces such as pubs and bars. For the third year running, study facilities, including IT stations and libraries, came out on top, with only 24% of students placing importance on entertainment and social buildings when it comes to deciding their choice of university.

It’s clear students are opting for universities offering the best overall experience more than ever before, so the quality and adequate supply of both learning and social facilities is extremely important.

So why is this the case? Millennials and Generation Z now make up the majority of students in the UK, and it’s essential universities take into account their attitudes and priorities. Millennials have a strong sense of social responsibility, a concern for the environment and their carbon footprint, as well as a more mindful attitude and way of living. Students now consider every aspect of their potential university, from course and academic ranking to social experiences and employment opportunities. Recent ONS stats found the number of 16-25 year olds abstaining from alcohol (in 2014) has increased by 40% since 2005. With students making up a large proportion of this demographic, it’s clear the number that view university as a three year party is decreasing.

Students also realise going to university is a huge financial decision and are taking into account a range of external factors. Due to rising tuition fees students face mounting debt, and as recent research from Aviva shows, graduates are really thinking about their choice of university and how the University can benefit their long term career aspirations.

With all this taken into account, it’s no surprise that current students are spending more time than ever on their studies, with the library being the most used facility for 66% of UK students and IT facilities coming second (51%).

Alongside this shift in values, the sector continues to face monumental challenges, from rising tuition fees and the most recent EU Referendum result, which will impact the strategic decisions of individual institutions. We know student expectations are high and for a number of years the sector has invested and continues to invest significant capital in its estate. The UK higher education sector has spent over £2.5 billion per annum of capital on the development of its estate in the last three years. This has transformed estates into inclusive and modern environments suitable for today’s discerning student – whether home-grown or international.

Despite the challenges, efficiency in higher education continues to improve creating innovative and exciting interventions across the sector. Directors of estates need to carry on their good work, offering students high-quality facilities that are well-maintained and serviced effectively in order to meet the shifting demand. Effective estate management is key to ensuring higher education institutions deliver the best possible student experience, both academically and socially.