The traditional student is a creature of the past and the future is all about meeting their individual needs. This was the underlying message from this year’s Association for Student Residential Accommodation (ASRA) conference and exhibition, held at the University of York in 2014.
ASRA kicked off with a packed exhibition hall and day of talks and seminars from some of the leading figures and commercial companies involved in student accommodation. The conference had the underlying theme of: ‘Our next challenges…are our customers really satisfied?’ I doubt that anyone thought, even ten years ago, that we would one day be describing students as ‘customers’ but the times, they are a’changing indeed.
From the challenges of accommodating students on non-standard courses to the issues around social media equipped students tweeting pictures of inadequate rooms and halls, the industry has much to contend with. As Chair of ASRA Mike Ball pointed out in his opening remarks: ‘We now need to become much more marketing savvy to deal with our future customers.’
In his keynote address, ‘How to persuade and influence people,’ speaker Philip Hesketh made some insightful comments into how students think, explaining that most people form first impressions of a person or service within 4.7 seconds so universities have to work extremely hard to make a good first impression. He also made the valid point that while first year undergrads may only be staying in their halls for one year, they see it as ‘their place’ and an almost permanent choice when they are choosing where to study and live.
The rest of the conference was a series of supplier showcases and member led discussion groups, plus some training and development programmes. It was a packed schedule and any university staff involved in student accommodation would have learnt a lot from attending. Topics ranged from, ‘Getting hammered – young people and alcohol’ to ‘Managing conflict between residential students’ and ‘Encouraging students to be green’ from Dr Neil Jennings at the National Union of Students.
I managed to sit in on the ‘top secret’ investigation into student activity, presented with great flair by the team at CampusLife. They showed us a very accurate picture of student life using research gathered from around the UK. It was a humorous look at how students have changed, especially in how they socialise and communicate via social media in their everyday lives. It was a fun, interactive talk, featuring several excellent videos for which CampusLife has already made a name for itself in the higher education sector. Simon and Tom also imparted some useful tips for HE professionals looking to boost their messaging via Facebook, twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest and Instagram.
Overall, I really enjoyed my first trip to ASRA. There was a relaxed but hardworking air to this year’s event; people were definitely enjoying the networking events and the exhibition was very well attended. Next year’s event is set to head to Wales and the Celtic Manor resort, which I’m sure will appeal to the golf enthusiasts as well as the accommodation specialists…
Click here to see a gallery of images from the event: https://www.flickr.com/photos/122040281@N02/
Video courtesy of Campus Life