Comment: The Student Economy

“Universities have the power to transform local economies but it’s the power of the student that’s making the biggest impact on the future development of University estates.

The University estates sector is being challenged, but all is not as it seems. Flicking through the latest Estates Management Report for the UK’s university sector published by AUDE reveals property statistics and trends many professional property asset managers will be familiar with; size of institution; size of estate per FTE; area per student FTE etc. Whilst these statistics and trends are useful to measure tangible estate metrics, it’s the intangible, human experience of place that’s now becoming the currency of student satisfaction.

Ever since the introduction of tuition fees, students have been voting with their feet. Feedback via the annual National Student Survey suggests that whilst students are generally satisfied with the quality of their courses, there is still room for improvement with the quality of and access to campus amenities and services as well as the quality and proximity of good food, sports facilities and accommodation.

It’s acknowledged that after the quality of teaching and academic ranking, a students’ choice of university is far more influenced by those measures which impact greatest on individual wellbeing and personal satisfaction. In this respect, those institutions which are well-located and easily connected; have a strong heritage with close links to local amenities, business, arts and culture and provide the necessary supportive pastoral infrastructure to allow students to thrive are winning in the student satisfaction rankings.

We are seeing change within the sector, with institutions recognising now more than ever a need to listen to their customer – the student. With the universities we are currently working with, we have seen a shift in their campus planning strategies with an increasing emphasis on developing projects which will have an impact on the overall student experience rather than on pure teaching or research as has historically been the case.

For example, providing student pastoral support and advice is a core focus for Manchester Metropolitan University’s Student Journey Transformation Programme; part of a large-scale initiative investigating ways in which the administrative and support functions of the University can improve the services they offer. Our recently completed Student Hubs project provides centralised student support, bringing together a range of student services into one location at the heart of the campus. This is mirrored via a digital online service portal. The service offer takes its cue from the retail and hospitality sectors, where the design of the online portal and the physical hub are conceived as one customer experience.

In a digitally-enabled university, there is an increasing urgency to develop flexible, efficient and digitally-enabled campuses to meet students’ expectations to learn and access services remotely. This expectation is not only changing the way in which the campus of the future is being conceived but, more importantly, responding specifically to the way in which the latest generation of students want to learn.”

Tony Skipper, Director

(First published in NW Business Insider, March 2020)