With the promise of lockdowns easing in the UK and abroad, rising appetites for remote working and the changing face of offices, Alex Grigull discusses how university campuses will need to adjust to an evolving academic environment.
The pandemic is causing gear-shifts: most obviously how we balance time at work and home. Adapting to change, the housing market shows signs that urban dwellers seeking more space outside of cities, and a host of major global companies have already embraced permanent flexible home working and hybrid offices. The discussion has begun, too, about how we regard campuses, and it questions their current role: are they fit for purpose? Will students and staff physically attend as they did pre-pandemic, now that more flexible patterns will be more commonplace in the working world?
As a baseline, university life and the campus are valued by students: the statistics show this. From a recent survey conducted by the Higher Education Design Quality Forum (HEDQF), 93% of higher education UK students intend to stay at university despite the past year, while just over a half (52%) used campus facilities during restrictions. While some successes will undoubtedly be felt with remote, technologically enabled learning, students still have an overwhelming appetite for physical spaces to interact.
Equally, as for the working population, stay-at-home mandates will potentially alter what students need from these interaction spaces — and, crucially, their impression of what to expect after university. Although higher education is a chance for many to acclimate to maturity and self-sufficiency — a practice-run for working life — nothing could’ve prepared for the exceptional (and isolated) way the world has been for the past year. Is this now a chance for universities to embrace reviving campuses to reflect a changing society?
Perhaps finding moments to give a platform to the intersection between disciplines — where the new things happen — should be the priority. University should be an enriching experience that augments the rest of your career. The cross-fertilisation of ideas… preparing for life: these make an academic experience more than simply ‘learning’. A key topic of the post-pandemic discourse should be, then, that campuses need to also provide students with opportunities that best equip them to succeed in a volatile and unpredictable landscape.
This thinking is not new: it is placed as a central driver behind our work on the Boldrewood Innovation Campus for the University of Southampton: an exemplar as the home of one of the UK’s largest university-business partnerships. The master plan and family of 6 buildings co-locate the Marine and Maritime Institute, research facilities supporting the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, and the Global Technology Centre of Lloyds Register. Alongside this, the campus also plays host to the government-driven collaboration with the other top institutions such as Imperial College and Cambridge.
This network of partnerships benefits the University, students, staff and companies, and gives lasting purpose to valuable campus space. The next generation of students will need these networks to thrive. They’ll pre-empt widespread mixed coworking and studying spaces, and expect that shared time will be focused on collaboration, serendipitous and productive moments to interact with peers and industry.
Some of the COVID-19 cohort of students have, by now, spent half their course at university, but not physically at campuses. With the rest of the world changing at an unprecedented pace, the campus will play a vital role in the success of universities and student development so equal importance should be placed on providing safe interactive environments in which they can flourish.
Photo credits: Diane Auckland, Jim Stephenson