Exceptionally high standards

Aramark’s Fiona Martin looks at how universities can gain a first class honours in the ‘Student Experience’ category

The phrase ‘Student Experience’ is now firmly part of the higher education lexicon. However, with so much noise being made about it how can you move on thinking about the subject? New insights help!

A recent initiative from University Business shed some light on what the latest thinking of the sector is, and provided some of these new insights.

University Business worked with Aramark – global food service and facilities management specialists working in the UK higher education sector – to conduct a survey into a range of issues affecting universities today. 290 readers shared their views.

When the results were published in the July edition of University Business, Hannah Oakman, University Business’ Managing Editor wrote of how universities are needing to confront a new reality of: “far greater literacy among young people about what constitutes ‘service excellence’ and their expectations of that as a norm.”

With this in mind, the survey results indicated two core areas where the majority thought more could be done by universities to enhance the experience students have on campus.

The first was whether universities should move to a ‘24/7’ campus environment where facilities such as shops, restaurants and sports facilities could be accessed day and night, by students and, potentially, by the local community too. There was a clear majority of respondents – 64% – in favour of evolving their campus facilities to operate in this way. This figure was in stark contrast, though, to the proportion of respondents saying that their campus offered 24/7 facilities already – 26%.

Responses to some other survey questions showed that many believe students will spend longer on campus in the future and need more flexible access to facilities. So, adapting facilities to provide greater convenience seems like an opportunity to be grasped – sweating the assets we have in terms of when they are used, who by, and for a range of purposes.

It could also bring other benefits. As one respondent said: “It may help to integrate the student population with the local population, and make the university less of a bubble.”

The second was employability. With the higher costs students now incur to go to university, many don’t want to leave with ‘just’ a degree but also gain other skills they may need to impress potential employers. Universities, as routes to facilitating work experience, internships or other graduate schemes, can play a key role.

However, when asked whether universities were doing enough to support their students’ employability, 67% said they were already doing a lot but needed to do more, and a further 20% thought they were not doing enough at all. That’s 87% of respondents thinking universities could up their game.

One of our respondents identified: “There is already a massive amount of great work being done, new initiatives etc, but these tend to be an ‘add-on’ to core teaching. Employability needs to be embedded in the curriculum so it is a continual thread.”

Easier said than done, perhaps, but a possible area of focus for universities wanting to offer an all-round fantastic Student Experience. One quick win could be working with business partners and suppliers on site who could provide expertise, coaching or part-time employment for students.

As is so often the case, to get to where you want to be, you need to know where you are now. As things stand, many universities may not be looking closely enough at how their facilities are used, and how they support their students’ employability prospects. Doing so could give them that extra edge in creating a great student experience.

It all comes back to Hannah Oakman’s point that students are much more aware now of ‘service excellence’ and the standards they can expect, not just in their studies but wider campus life. By applying focus, we can work to meet these expectations.

Fiona Martin is Aramark’s Director of Client Relationships – Education. www.aramark.co.uk

 

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