Blended living

At its upcoming conference, the Class of 2020 will release brand-new research on blended living. Four experts give UB readers exclusive insight into this year’s conference

The conference on Blended Living, which will be held in Berlin from 6–7 November, will bring together the real estate industry, higher education providers, policymakers and city governments with a range of enterprises connected or interested in the future of living, working and learning. The conference aims to inform, challenge, inspire and provide networking opportunities with the most important leaders in the field.

For more information regarding the conference, visit the Class of 2020 website.

Mental health & wellbeing: The need for a blended community

Tom Martin, Residency Living Manager, Student Living by Sodexo

In recent years mental health has become a topic at the forefront of political, sociological and economical interest with media outlets, academic professionals and even members of the Royal Family discussing this on an increasing basis.

At Student Living by Sodexo, we place equal importance on mental health and physical health. All our team is trained in mental health first aid, mental health awareness and some specialists are trained in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills (ASIS).

Building communities that care is at the very heart of residential living.

We support students throughout their journey, from pre-arrival, arrival, living and departure, providing an environment that promotes positive health and wellbeing, and that nurtures a community.

Quality of life

Values and principles are key to providing safe, supportive and inclusive living-learning communities. Our residency living programme has been designed with Sodexo’s Quality of Life values and framework in mind and looks to develop, support and guide our residents from applicant to alumni.

A student’s journey is often fraught with challenges and opportunities, both negative and positive in nature. Our team is in the privileged position to enhance key moments in a student’s journey. We bring together multiple activities, interactions and campaigns to seamlessly support and guide residents through the jungle that can be student life. Whether addressing pre-arrival nerves and anxiety with a simple phone call from the site team or creating a campaign to support career development, our programme helps to improve the overall student experience.

Home from home

We create a ‘home from home’ atmosphere where students can comfortably live and learn. While our sites are small communities, we aim to connect the larger community across our buildings. We host ‘site nights’ where all our sites come together to join initiatives and programmes aimed at engaging students and staff. Activites include ‘speed friending’, salsa nights and our new ‘flat chats’, which involve our staff visiting to share insights about a specific topic such as sleep hygiene and making friends with the aim of boosting social connections.

We recognise that students want to feel connected and we understand that we occupy a position of trust. Students open up about issues or stresses that affect their time at university. A small issue for one person may be all-consuming for another; if it is important to our resident, then it is important to us. We are proud to have a team who are passionate about delivering the best experience for our students, ensuring they are proactively dealing with any concerns. Our people are what make our communities strong and our students succeed.

Alongside programming and planning, education is a key focus of our residency living programme. In the past, punitive methods of dealing with unacceptable behaviour have left students in debt, upset and disgruntled with their living arrangements. We seek to educate and promote reflection and reflexivity of behaviours to ensure our residents understand how individual actions influence the wider community.

Investing, caring and developing is our priority. We are proud to help shape students’ futures and ensure they have a blended community that allows them to grow as individuals and succeed in their studies.

Civic universities: Can universities be drivers of change in local communities?

Richard Brabner, Director UPP Foundation,

The story of how cities have developed is in many cases closely linked to the development of their universities.

For example, in Britain the first universities were started almost 900 years ago, and the country has experienced the growth of different types of institutions during various political and industrial phases: from the Victorian ‘redbrick’ universities of Manchester and Birmingham, to the expansion of the new modernist universities of the technological revolution of the 1960s and then the transition of polytechnics from 1992 onwards.

Now in the 21st century, we see the creation of a knowledge economy with a flourishing sector. Universities currently contribute over £95bn to the economy, supporting one million jobs, and educating over two million students, including 450,000 from around the world.

Globally, the HE market is growing by 12% a year, with rapid growth in Asia and the Americas, meaning ever-increasing competition for students, staff, and funding. The coming wave of automation and reindustrialisation will offer many opportunities but also leave many behind and isolated, and this is where universities increasingly have been assisting in regenerating urban areas and providing new jobs.

The civic role that universities play – recognising the contribution they make to their host towns and cities – has therefore never been more important. In many communities, the university is the centre of civic life. The activities that this includes can be hugely varied – helping local business adapt to technological change, working alongside schools, supporting economic local growth and culture, and training and developing new community leaders in every field from politics to the arts.

Now in the 21st century, we see the creation of a knowledge economy with a flourishing sector

But while many universities have a proud civic history, and the breadth of civic activity undertaken by almost any university is impressive, relatively few have what we might call a strategic approach to civic engagement. Few conduct a robust analysis of the needs of their local communities and develop a civic mission to overcome these challenges, where the idea of ‘left-behind’ communities and regions is a powerful force. Alongside being global hubs, universities also have an opportunity and even a responsibility to address needs that are closer to home.

The emphasis on looking beyond the local community is not just a choice that universities have made. They have been encouraged by governments that have not followed through on commitments to the idea of ‘place’. So, this challenge – how universities can reinvigorate their civic mission for the 21st century – was the question the UPP Foundation Civic University Commission asked over a 12-month inquiry in 2018–2019. The inquiry concluded that it is not enough just to be civically engaged with a list of local projects that the university supports and local committees that university staff sit on.

For an institution to be truly a civic university, it was believed important to place the civic role alongside teaching and research as one of the core purposes of the university. This will, of course, require resources, and here both universities and government should play their part.

In an era where the UK government is talking the talk on the importance of place-based approaches to policy, and supporting left-behind communities, governments should create a dedicated ‘Civic University Fund’ focused on how universities can support this, with a priority towards more disadvantaged areas of a country. But universities themselves are autonomous institutions – who have been around and will outlast any one government – and so they should also recognise the importance of this role.

The central recommendation from The UPP Commission was that universities can take a vital first step by adopting the Commission’s idea of a Civic University Agreement, setting out what they will offer local communities and which major local strategic needs they will seek to address. This needs to be based on listening to the local community and working in partnership with further education colleges, local government, major employers, and the creative and cultural institutions.

Universities should also think hard about where they can most make an impact in areas such as widening participation and access and through their role as employers.

Universities have an irreplaceable and unique role in ensuring that their host communities thrive, and a need to recognise that their own success is bound up with the success of the places that gave birth to them. 

The European University: How universities can save the European idea

Professor Martin Paul, President of Maastricht University,

In the ongoing debate about the future of Europe, polarised opinions have not been helpful in fostering a sensitive and sensible dialogue as it has been seen over the last few years in many European countries. Sometimes the impression is that there is an ‘either-or’ discussion and both sides accuse the other of one-sidedness and political blind spots. The pro-Europeans are easily labelled as blind followers that jump over the Brussels cliff like lemmings and the Eurosceptics as right-wing extremists wanting the European idea to implode out of pure selfishness.

Such stereotypes are not helpful in moving ahead together, and polarisation has never boded well for societies, generally.

A common European approach and European unity has been a guarantor for peace and prosperity over the last 75 years. This is in sharp contrast to the negative experiences of a Europe built solely of national states, which has led to conflict and war. Universities are responsible for educating the European citizens of the future and, therefore, need to play an active role in redefining what is meant by a sustainable Europe.

The YUFE alliance

Maastricht University responded to a long-awaited call to develop a joint European university platform to identify and address common issues in different European countries and launched the YUFE alliance, Young Universities for the Future of Europe. The alliance was formed with universities from Madrid, Rome, Antwerp, Bremen, Essex, Cyprus and Eastern Finland and a number of associated partners to create a new concept of what a truly European university could look like and these are currently turning the proposal into a leading model for university education in Europe.

The new university will bring talented young people together from its different partners to work in a range of disciplines in the different urban contexts, so YUFE students gain a range of academic and cultural experiences relating to different regions of Europe. The university system will provide a range of inter-university courses and a virtual campus that will foster student and staff mobility. There will also be an emphasis on part-time and flexible learners, and students will contribute to develop housing solutions that facilitate cultural exchange, mutual support and integration with the local community.

The alliance is committed to excellence, not to elitism – YUFE is an open community which will build and develop a new university model based on involving a range of students who are seen as partners.

The pro-Europeans are easily labelled as blind followers that jump over the Brussels cliff like lemmings and the Eurosceptics as right-wing extremists wanting the European idea to implode out of pure selfishness

Student representatives will also act as board members in the planning and organisation of courses and of the wider university system. Being inclusive as an academic institution remains a challenge. That is why YUFE partners have joined forces with KIRON, a German NGO that uses digital tools to help young people enter academia – especially those that come from first-generation families, those that are economically challenged or are refugees.

The goal is to create an inclusive European university on multiple locations, which is accessible for all, not just those from privileged backgrounds. Internships which will enable students to work with local authorities and the business community will be an important part of an outward-looking education. These could include working with the developing sustainable ecosystems near Maastricht, creating more efficient public transport systems in Cyprus or contributing to solving socio-economic issues in Essex.

It’s envisioned that the new model of university education will have far-reaching effects across communities, helping to transform them for the better. One example of this is implementing the principle of ‘Citizen Science’, where an institution not only responds directly to the needs of society, but also involves them in discussing ‘Science for Society’.

Ultimately, the aim is to create a common ecosystem for a new generation of Europeans who are seeing the regional strengths in different countries as a base for a new European idea that is built on inclusion, not division. European universities, therefore, should not only learn and study society, but also take an active role in their communities. YUFE will provide students with the skills they need to be highly employable and will offer relevant European career paths to all members of society. In so doing, the alliance will strengthen its collective identity and contribute to a more cohesive European society.

For YUFE, please contact Daniela Trani, managing director, at

The four-dimensional city: How time becomes the next urban frontier

Jeroen Beekmans, Co-founder at Pop-Up City,

Urban expansion has always unfolded either horizontally (sprawl) or vertically (high-rise). With space becoming scarcer and more valuable, the new frontier in urban development is in utilising space that is temporarily unused – not for years, but for hours. Can we turn empty restaurants into co-working spaces during daytime? Can we sleep in office buildings outside office hours? And why not turn university lecture halls into cinemas at night?

Massive urbanisation across the world leads to a new frontier in urban development. Space has become an increasingly scarce –and therefore an increasingly valuable – asset in urban cores. Nevertheless, urban space is still used rather inefficiently: restaurants stay empty for almost half the day; valuable office floors in expensive downtown locations are only occupied between nine and five; and cars are just standing there doing nothing 95% of their time.

This situation has inspired new companies and entrepreneurs to launch innovative concepts that use space in a more hybrid and efficient way. New York-based start-up Spacious turns restaurants that are empty during the day into co-working spaces. Founder Preston Pesek realised that many eateries in New York only open at 6pm, leaving an amazing potential of unused furnished space during office hours. Spacious links all these empty restaurant tables to people who are looking for a co-working desk in their neighborhood and makes sure the wifi works and the coffee machine has fresh beans. The co-working start-up brilliantly matches supply (tables) and demand (work spots) without ever owning real estate itself.

With hardly any cultural venues and the highest land prices in the Netherlands, a hybrid, temporary cinema is a smart idea to make a leisure programme possible

Lecture hall turns into a cinema at night

In Amsterdam, the Free University has teamed up with cinema Rialto to screen movies in its lecture halls outside college hours in the afternoon, evening and over the weekend. It is no surprise this initiative popped up here: the Free University’s buildings are located in the middle of Amsterdam’s rapidly developing central business district. With hardly any cultural venues for the inhabitants and the highest land prices in the Netherlands, a hybrid, temporary cinema is a smart idea to make a leisure programme possible.

When the district was hit hard during the financial crisis, temporary use was a way to deal with an overload of empty and dysfunctional plots of land. Now, as of 2019, temporary thinking offers solutions for the exact opposite – a lack of space.

Hybrid house

Somewhere else in the Dutch capital, real estate development company BPD is realising Woon&, a residential complex that incorporates the sharing economy. The buildings include guest bedrooms, the co-working space on the ground floor makes its overcapacity available to neighbours, and all residents have access to electric shared cars in collaboration with BMW. The complex also has a flexible shop space that can change function and owner over the course of the day: coffee bar in the morning, grocery shop in the afternoon, take-away in the evening. This improves the level of service for residents, lowers the financial risk for shopkeepers, and helps the apartment block to be a vibrant space all day long. It is not only the high pressure on urban space that leads to innovative ways to make more out of it.

A giant leap for mankind

The hybrid use of space emerges not only in buildings, but also in mobility concepts.

In 2012, public transport startup Leap launched a daily commuter service with small vans in San Francisco. The vans do not only offer a trip between home and work, but double as co-working spaces on wheels with desks, wifi, power and quality coffee on board. Among many other automotive companies that explore the future of self-driving cars and additional functions, Honda not so long ago presented a conceptual house in which one of the rooms is a mobile plug-in unit on wheels, which can also be used as a private van or modern type of caravan.

Besides higher costs of urban space and shifting lifestyles, evolving technology is a third driver of this trend. Mobile technology, artificial intelligence and broad acceptance of, and trust in, online platforms open up possibilities to operate and manage space in smarter and more efficient ways. Hybrid spaces that can host multiple functions over short periods of time are the future of urban life.

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