Changing spaces

How undergraduates use their living space differently, and how Northumbria University is adapting to meet their needs

Dr Guy Brown, Head of Department for Corporate and Executive Development at Northumbria University’s Newcastle Business School based in the North East of England, has carried out research into the ways that different generations learn and live. 

Here he explains how the most common age group studying undergraduate degrees in 2015 (Generation Y and emerging Generation Z) use their living space differently to previous generations, and how similarly Northumbria University are adapting to meet their needs.

The Baby Boomers are a generation of people born during the post WWII ‘Baby Boom’, roughly during the years 1946 to 1964 who witnessed economic growth and prosperity throughout their lifetime. Generation X loosely describes those born between the 1960s and 1980s, Generation Y link the 1980s up to 2000, and Generation Z is anyone born after the millennium.  

Guy said: “Students from Generation Y and Z unlike previous generations are much more independent from an early age, they own a house key from a much earlier age than previous often because parents work, and trust them knowing they have mobiles to call if they need to. 

Furthermore, “Generation Y and Z have had access to lots of information from a very young age with technology at their finger-tips. They can entertain themselves, organise their social lives, and research what they wish using their smart phone, laptop, or tablet. 

“This means the way bedrooms are used has changed. Bedrooms are no longer simply for sleeping, studying and reading, they are filled with PCs, video games, mobile devices, and even fridges, giving young people an independent life in the safety of a family environment, all from an early age.  

“Sitting round a table and eating meals with your family, or joining your parents or siblings to watch the same television programme in one room has become less common, so young people are able to choose when they socialise, who they are sociable with and how they do it, whether online or in person.

“These students have grown up with a balanced lifestyle, where they build and form their own friendships and connections – meaning they have more confidence than previous generations and aren’t risk averse, but they don’t like to be told what to do. 

“Northumbria University has adapted several of its buildings to meet the needs of these new learners with living spaces created to offer communal, shared areas where students can build relationships in an informal, relaxed setting. Simple things like making sure bedrooms have enough power points for students to charge up electrical devices makes a difference. If universities can make small changes like this it can maximise on the skills these generations have learnt from an early age, and these universities will continue to produce top-class graduates.

“Generations Y and Z are also easily bored of routine, so we vary where and how students are taught at Northumbria – lectures, tutorials or group learning in a breakout space, are just some of the learning pathways found on the degree programmes. 

“Student living areas now have coffee shops, lots of food choice and study areas that vary in style, so there is a mix of environments for students to learn in. 

“Some call it the ‘Google effect’, following its adoption of alternative types of work space, as well as blurring the lines between living and working. Giving Generations Y and Generation Z a choice of spaces to live and learn in, means they can hold on to the independence they have developed from an early age.” 

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