University accommodation innovation

By Jon Wakeford, Group Director for Strategy and Communications at UPP

The higher education sector is exploring innovative new ways to improve the student experience. That means creating infrastructure designed with students in mind and developed with students at the very heart.

To provide the best possible service to students and universities, it is crucial for UPP to position ourselves at the cutting edge of design and to consider new models and methods when creating spaces for students to live, learn, and work in. That’s why we formed an innovation task force – to root out the best new ideas in student facilities and think about how to bring them to the UK. 

As part of that work over the last year, our team went on a series of overseas site visits to explore new and exciting student residences. From designs and layouts to facilities management and learning opportunities, key innovations are emerging from across the European market. We’re excited about learning from these ideas and using them to inform our approach to student accommodation in the UK. 

Last year, for example, I attended the Class 2020 Conference in Holland. Every year, this conference is an opportunity to visit our continental neighbours and find out what trends are coming out of mainland Europe. It’s always fascinating to see what other countries are doing and how they are responding to the changing needs and expectations of students – both domestically and internationally. 

Following the conference, our innovation task force has been exploring innovative new ways of creating student spaces informed by students own desired models of learning, working and living. We have begun reviewing Dutch-style building models and we’re currently working to bring these designs and ideas to UK campuses.  

Combined learning and living space

The ‘flipped bedroom’ concept – where the lines between living and learning are blurred through innovative architecture – is incredibly exciting. This idea has recently been developed into real and tangible spaces that work for students by combining state of the art learning spaces with modern living space. With Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) set out in the higher education green paper, better utilising data and technology in the residential space has real opportunities for universities.  

Also coming out of Holland is a more communal approach. The Student Hotel – where common room spaces are areas to work, live, learn and play in – brings learning into the residential space. State of the art facilities mean students can use the latest technology to learn in whichever living space they want to – for example, by watching and listening to TED Talks or lectures in booths, alongside traditional social spaces. 

Creating this social, communal feeling around learning gives students real agency around how and where they learn, improving the overall student experience and breaking with the tradition of conventional accommodation models.

For Students, By Students

Going a step beyond combining learning and living spaces, a striking innovation that is growing in popularity is the a model creating student residences, run by students for students. 

This type of property extends the idea of community living into facilities management and completely reshapes the traditional dynamic of how students interact with their accommodation. The strapline of one residence we visited was student centred. This kind of language, rightly, is increasingly heard at university residences, facilities managers and accommodation providers here in the UK and is a key tenant of our thinking at UPP. 

We may be a distance from having student run accommodation in the UK market, but these projects give us valuable insight into the potential for students to control and design their own accommodation, as well as the appetite for this type of innovation. 

Making your Mark

Industrial design architecture is increasingly visible in all types of European new builds. The clean lines and functional industrial buildings of the 1960s are now viewed in a new and more positive light, as we consider what such buildings have achieved.

In the student accommodation market, this move towards a more industrial design has led to innovations that see students able to make their own mark on their surroundings. Rooms are blank and unfurnished, so students can decorate and furnish to reflect their own personalities. This type of accommodation may not work universally but is ideal for students who see their university accommodation as more of a permanent home – such as mature students.

Innovation Test Bed

UPP is planning to launch a new ‘Innovation Test Bed’ in the UK. This unique project will enable UPP to test out modern, creative new accommodation designs, and will involve in depth consultation with students to discover what it is they want from their living spaces. 

Student-centric learning as an approach has spread through all areas of the higher education sector, encompassing academic and non-academic services. The innovations we are seeing in Europe show that approach trickling into the accommodation sector.  Whether it’s through design, social spaces or facilities management, what we’re learning from the Dutch style and more widely, the European student accommodation model, is that students should be at the centre of innovation and we are working to ensure that becomes a reality across the UK.  


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