University Facilities More Important than Academic Reputation

Melbourne University Design School

Melbourne University Design School

As thousands of students around the country are beginning to find their feet at their new universities, a recent report from the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) on student experience inquired into what factors are the most significant in the minds of potential students when choosing their university. There are, of course, many reasons why students would pick a university and most people would probably think that the institutions academic status would be the most important. Although important, the report found that the academic ranking and reputation of a university is becoming a less decisive factor. Instead, it is a universities facilities and social spaces, such as cafes and food halls, which are now considered more important than academic prestige.

We have been responsible for designing many new university facilities – both social and educational – up and down the country for many years and although interesting, the finding from the AUDE wasn’t particularly surprising. Due to our people-centred research and design process, we have talked directly with over a thousand students who have told us that the design of facilities and spaces has a direct impact on their satisfaction and well-being. The spaces and places in which we spend our time working, studying or socialising have an impact on us. We are, after all, products of our environment. Furthermore, through our own research over the years, we have found that a university’s facilities, from buildings facades to cafes and libraries, can reflect, uphold and reinforce the soft-targets of identity and community which are particularly important for students.

This finding from the AUDE also highlights a trend that, although not new, has become more apparent in recent years: students don’t go to universities just to learn, they go for the experience, and with the hike in tuition fees in England and Wales, they demand value for money. It is increasingly important, therefore, for universities to develop a clear identity which the facilities can reflect and uphold. Designing spaces and places in this way helps to create a strong brand that current and potential students can buy into. We are glad universities are beginning to recognise that the design of their facilities is extremely important to the student experience, and as chair of the AUDE, Trevor Humphreys says: “Effective estate management is key to ensuring higher education institutions deliver the best possible student experience, both academically and socially.”

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