Work, rest and play

Steve Wright hears how four leading universities are ensuring that students have everything they need on campus

Up and down the country, universities are now aware as never before that the right combination of superb facilities, first-class catering, and desirable and affordable accommodation can allow their students to live self-sufficiently on campus – while also bolstering the universities’ long-term financial sustainability. And, alongside the need for these facilities to be the best that they can possibly be, there’s also a growing awareness of the need to consult the students themselves in the design of the spaces in which they’ll eat, sleep, train and relax. 

At St Andrews University, there’s an understanding that first-rate sports facilities come near the top of many students’ wish lists. And to that end, a £14m redevelopment of the University’s sports facilities is currently underway. The current sports centre was built in 1968 when St Andrews’ student body was fewer than 2,000. Today, however, the student population exceeds 8,200, while the sports centre also works to encourage participation across the local community.

The £5.55m works, supported by the University’s 600th Anniversary fundraising campaign, will see a brand new and extended sports centre created at the existing St Leonard’s Road site, including a new eight-court sports hall, in addition to a major refurbishment and extension of the current building.

A CGI image of the facilities at St Andrews

With the new sports hall now completed, the next phase will involve refurbishing the current sports centre building, converting the present facilities into a new 130-station fitness suite and accompanying strength and conditioning suite. The final phase will see a four-court indoor tennis centre constructed adjacent to the sports centre, while plans are underway for a new boathouse on the River Tay. 

Director of Sport and Exercise Stephen Stewart said: “Our student athletes frequently top the leagues of competitive student sport. All of our students’ sporting successes have been achieved without the aid of ultra-modern facilities: imagine what they can achieve with our continued commitment to their sporting future.”

The University has also sanctioned investment of over £70m in student housing, in a move which will provide 900 additional bed spaces and refurbish large areas of its existing residences. In total, the Action Plan will increase the number of university-managed student bedrooms from 4,000 to 4,900.

St Andrews currently has 8,200 students, and already provides more accommodation per head of population than any other university in Scotland. And, as Director of Residential and Business Services Ben Stuart explains: the latest investment is designed to further remove the headache of finding accommodation from students’ lives. “Finding accommodation in St Andrews is perceived by some students to be a stressful challenge, when the reality is that there are often sufficient choices available. By publishing our Action Plan and commitment to expand and improve our student residences, we hope to offer important reassurance to current and future students.”

Student leaders have worked closely with the University’s Residential Services team on the detailed proposals. A range of rents will be available, and substantial bursary and support packages are in place to assist with costs. “St Andrews is a juxtaposition – an ancient university home to modern, world-class teaching and research,” Ben continues. “Six hundred years on from our foundation, we aim to provide an environment where students, staff and world-leading scholarship can flourish. The sports centre and student accommodation are both central to student life, and recent investment in their redevelopment reflects how much we value the St Andrews student experience. We’re proud to offer modern facilities in a historic setting.”

Four hundred miles south at the University of Buckingham, an understanding that fitness and convenience must go hand in hand has led to the introduction of virtual exercise classes. “We’re launching virtual exercise classes in the Exercise Studio in order to offer more opportunities for students and staff to engage in physical activity,” explains James Seymour, Director of Admissions and Student Recruitment. Elsewhere on campus, a new à la carte service in the refectory means that students can now enjoy a restaurant-style experience, with food brought to table. “The refectory is now bursting at the seams, with a lot more students taking advantage of university catering,” James reveals. 

Elsewhere, Keele’s standing as one of the UK’s most student-friendly universities (it regularly places at or near the top of student satisfaction surveys) is set for a boost with the launch of a new student accommodation development. Keele’s campus consists of 617 acres of picturesque greenery, woodlands and lakes, home to a choice of bars, catering outlets, sports centre, library, running routes, a health centre, pharmacy, bank, supermarket and much more. Add to this free Wi-Fi access everywhere on campus, a Residence Support team plus 24-hour security staff and it’s clear why the Keele campus is such a fun, safe and relaxed home to students from across the globe.

University of Keele sports facility

With student numbers expected to increase, Keele is now investing in two new high-quality, sustainable halls of residence. In response to student demand the development, close to the centre of campus, will feature en suite rooms with study zones and clustered bedrooms, so that kitchen and lounge spaces are shared by six to eight students. An ancillary laundry and dedicated halls management centre, located within the building reception area, are also proposed. Set for completion in autumn 2017, the 453-room Barnes Hall of Residence will include large, open-plan social spaces comprising fully fitted kitchens, dining and lounge areas.

Keele’s Estates & Development Department is also set to unveil an ambitious, £1.7m improvement and upgrade of its sports offer. This includes the creation of a full-size synthetic football pitch (with the latest 3G artificial turf), suitable for all-weather play of a variety of sports. 

Also planned are a smaller training area, re-configuration of a section of the tennis court area to provide courts for basketball and beach volleyball, and upgrading of the existing astroturf area, plus surrounding access roads and pathways. The areas will also be floodlit to allow evening play during winter months.

Phil Butters, Director of Estates and Development, said: “Keele is a world-class university and we aim to provide world-class facilities for our students. If we want to maintain our international standing, we must continue to invest in our infrastructure as we provide the facilities and services expected of a leading international campus-based university.”

When it comes to optimising the student experience, Bangor University can certainly hold its head high. The University was recently nominated in seven of the ten categories (including Accommodation, Facilities, Student Support and Overall University of the Year) in this year’s student-nominated What Uni Awards. 

University of Buckingham campus

In addition to its Ffriddoedd Student Village, the University has recently opened a second, 600-room ‘student village’ to cater specifically for second and third year ‘returners’ who want to stay in university accommodation. The site provides a range of accommodation including studio apartments and townhouses, plus a cafe, shop, launderette, common rooms and sports and fitness room facilities on location. 

Ken Griffith, Head of Residences, said: “While price is always a consideration, students want a range of accommodation options – and to be able to access the best social experience possible, forging new friendships from the very beginning. 

A successful student community is inclusive, vibrant and engaged with its living environment. The successful community is a cross-section of the student body as a whole: it takes into account different accommodation preferences, be that sociable houses for ‘returners’ with old friends, quieter flats for postgraduates, or individual studios for a more private living experience. Encouraging dialogue with students about their living environment, and listening to feedback, fosters a relationship in which student residents feel valued and empowered.”

Elsewhere on the campus, Bangor was the first publicly funded university to make all Students’ Union clubs and societies free to all students, which has seen an increase in participation – especially in sports societies. The University has also redesigned and expanded its sports centre, Canolfan Brailsford, and created a 3G all-weather pitch for use by students and the local community. 

Professor Carol Tully, the University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students), said: “One of the most crucial things in developing facilities is to give students themselves the chance to be involved in the design process. They are the end users of the facilities and know better than anyone what they want. At Bangor we ensure that student input is brought in from the very beginning of all our projects.” 


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Fireside Chats - Presented by:


Student experience, quality enhancement, accessibility and inclusion

Wednesday, September 29, 12PM (BST)