Today AUDE (the Association of University Directors of Estates) together with HEDQF (the Higher Education Design Quality Forum) and Willmott Dixon, one of the UK’s leading construction companies publish the report ‘Campus spaces and places: Impact on student outcomes’. In February 2021 this group of organisations initiated a multi-year research project which aims to answer core questions about the impact of different types of campus places and spaces on student outcomes. We intend that this research should answer some fundamental questions, including “How can we measure the value of the Higher Education built environment in terms of impact on students and student outcomes? What types of campus and what campus facilities deliver the most benefit for our students?”
Today’s report is an explanation of our first year’s work, which has been led by Professor Sonja Oliveira of the University of Strathclyde, and colleagues at the University of the West of England. This period has focused on an evidence review and asks if similar work has been carried out elsewhere (including internationally) that we can build on. What do we know, and where should our aim be in improving the sector’s core knowledge on these issues? In working with Professor Oliveira, we provide academic structure and rigour to our investigations so that future recommendations have the soundest possible basis.
Pre-Covid, Universities were spending more than £3.5bn a year on capital developments because of a strong belief in the impact this has on the delivery of high-quality teaching, research and student experience; post Covid future investments will have to deliver even more value. Our next steps in this research will build on two particular aspects of inquiry, examining the role of informal and social spaces, and of green spaces in student outcomes.
Informal learning spaces were found to be of particular importance to undergraduates and first-year students in transitioning to university and establishing a sense of belonging. Proximity and connectivity of informal spaces was also found to be key to the overall dynamics of how students engage with the campus and interact with one another. Many recently built higher education buildings in the UK do tend to include a need for social and collaborative learnings spaces – often informal and transitionary. Whilst the evidence that we reviewed in our study suggests that the composition, proximity and flexibility of these spaces have an effect on students’ engagement, much remains underexamined and poorly understood.
While it is not surprising that the use and proximity of green spaces have a positive effect on quality of student life, the design and use of green spaces varied in the evidence reviewed. It was also suggested that whilst many universities had a high percentage of green spaces, lack of awareness and students’ availability to use such spaces prevented many from engaging and benefiting. A number of key barriers to the use of green spaces were found in the review, including the frequency of use of green spaces during childhood.
The evidence reviewed also suggested that design features including the use of water, as well as greater engagement from university estates and management teams to provide outdoor activities were found to promote use of green spaces. Future studies could explore in greater detail how different university approaches to maintaining and planning use of green spaces might enable greater engagement and how this in turn could contribute positively to student wellbeing and quality of life.
Dr Ghazwa Alwani-Starr, Chair of HEDQF and Chair of the Research Project Advisory Group, said: “Understanding the links, that we all know exist, between the physical environment of universities and the way students engage with and succeed in their studies is crucial. This research enables the Higher Education community to start to build a strong evidence base on which to prioritise effort and investments. This report is the outcome of the first step in a multi-year collaborative research programme which we will continue to pursue with rigour.”
Jane White, AUDE Executive Director, said: “We are grateful to Willmott Dixon for initially proposing the idea for this research project to us and for the team’s work to date. The next stages of research will flesh out the ideas discussed in the current evidence review, and tie down the links between our places, spaces and outcomes in ways that provide a concrete benefit for the sector and its ongoing aim to provide the best experience possible for our students.”
Cora Kwiatkowski, architect and leading on the project for the HEDQF research group, said: “ The literature review has already thrown up a whole host of useful pointers that can be incorporated in future design to create better and more meaningful student experiences, and we are looking forward to exploring these in the future research.”
Download the full report here