Creating more bang for their buck

Steve Hawkins, European Divisional Director Student Living by Sodexo, talks the student experience

What best illustrates the excellent student experience you are offering?

I would say that student satisfaction levels, the number of students returning to the residences managed by Student Living along with client feedback are the key indicators of whether we are meeting the expectations of both our client and students. For example:

• Our most recent survey of university leavers at Northumbria University showed that the average student satisfaction rate within Student Living is over 90%
• We have a repeat number of 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students returning to our residences because of the great experience they had in their 1st year.
• The awards we’ve won, of which the student experience forms part of. This has included Trinity Hall recently being named ‘Newcastle Student Hall of the Year’ at the recent NESHA awards.
• Trinity Hall was also accredited by ANUK earlier this year and we were pleased that the assessor had such positive comments on the systems we have in place.

What recent developments at your campus best show your commitment to boosting student experience? 

It must be daunting to up sticks, pack all your belongings into a suitcase and move half way across the country or a different part of the world, and live with a bunch of strangers, people they have never met before at the age of 18 years old. This is the current university model and it’s our role to help support this transition, examining aspects of how we can integrate our services, our experience and our learnings in relation to what is ultimately a human need for active socialisation.

In order to respond to this, we have developed a Residential Life programme which captures our student experience initiatives to support their university cycle – pre-arrival, arrival, the study years and departure. This is a flexible programme that starts before a student arrives at University and is made up of core elements which offer students a “home from home, safe and secure environment” alongside more tailored initiatives that are aligned to a specific University or individual residences and could include local events and welfare policies.

Across the portfolio of accommodation we manage, each location has a Residence Life team who provide service and support crucial to supporting the transition from living at home and studying at school or college, to living and studying independently, particularly in the first year. 

As part of our offer, we have committed to telephone every student who has accepted an offer of accommodation prior to arrival. This is to ensure that our students are prepared before the come to University, they feel welcomed and to introduce the site team who will be on hand to ensure their journey and experience at University will the best it can be.

We also email an Accommodation Welcome pack.  This is an online induction that provides students with information on how to live safely and harmoniously with other people and introduces them to some of the opportunities, events and activities available to them in our accommodation.

There is also an opportunity for students to suggest events that they would like to see us run. We read every one and on a number of occasions we have taken forward the ideas that were sent to us.

We are continuing to develop the Accommodation Welcome to offer students bespoke information. For example, the 2017-18 Accommodation Welcome pack is tailored to home or international students and then specific to each residence we manage.

Ultimately, the ResidenceLife team is there to create a pleasant, stress-free living environment though the management of residential community issue in the following ways:

• Assisting in the resolution of interpersonal issues that arise in shared living environments.
• Offering advice and guidance of appropriate behaviour and conduct to assist with personal development, independent living, and understanding how to appropriately interact with one’s community. (Behavioural expectations)
• Forming part of the student discipline review committee for the development of the non-academic student discipline process.
• Linking with academic departments and is used as an alternative communication channel between department and student if required.

The team can also, when required, provide an extra communication and support channel between crucial university support services and vulnerable students, such as:

• Quick support response if support services are concerned for health of a particular resident while specialists are called in,
• Provide extra provision to recognise if a vulnerable student requires specialist support, particularly out-of-hours.
• Provide a joined up and united management of vulnerable students within the university community.

By linking with student committees (residence, student support, welfare, security, and counselling), the team can ensure that issues that develop in the residences can be brought to the attention of the relevant student support service quickly.

We have committed as part of our offer to telephone every student prior to arrival, this is to ensure that our students are prepared before the come to University, they feel welcomed and understand who the site team are that will be ensuring their journey and experience at University will the best it can be. 

With tuition fees continuing to rise, how might students’ expectations change?

Students now consider themselves as consumers in the era of £9,000-a-year fees therefore both them and their parents may expect more ‘bang for their buck’. While this will be primarily focused on the quality of teaching and class sizes, there will also be an increased expectation of both the accommodation and facilities that are available.

Students will expect a fantastic living learning experience, with facilities that can assist them to learn in an environment that they feel comfortable and safe in.

• Value for money remains a key issue.  In the future we may see a “price/quality charter” created to guarantee fees versus value for money. This could form part of the University webpage or be privately led offering star ratings similar to what we see in the hotel market.
• A wide ladder range of rents price points remains key so accommodation suppliers will need to consider with innovative ways to design and build or reconfigure residences to be able to offer affordability. 
• The impact of potential fee increases may mean that students may consider a University nearer to home and . And commute. This was discussed a number of year ago when fees were first introduced, but student mobility didn’t really change but may do if fees rise and reach a tipping point.
• With the introduction of the Apprentice Levy, students may look to join apprenticeship programmes that offer access to a degree qualification, and therefore the focus could shift to on-line off campus learning, which would be a significant change to the current model. 

Finally, how would you sum up the best ‘student experience’?

Giving students the best start at University through supporting in those first few crucial weeks and on their journey forward.  Assist students to make lifelong friends and  build communities that will last a lifetime. 

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