UK, US and Australian universities are among the best in the world but also among the most expensive. The US is particularly well versed when it comes to charging a premium rate – the average cost of a US undergraduate degree has risen by 375% since 1988. And with this rise comes a more consumer orientated mindset with students expecting more in return for their investment.
US universities have realised they have to supply a product that sells, and that academic performance alone will not attract student numbers. The same shift has occurred in Australia since the introduction of tuition fees in 1996. Student accommodation has changed dramatically in both countries. Block accommodation with shared bedrooms, communal bathrooms and dining areas was deemed undesirable a long time ago and led to a move towards more young-professional, apartment-style living with gymnasiums and leisure facilities.
Evidence suggests that the UK is – or should be – following suit. A survey of 1750 students by Campus Living Villages UK found they preferred accommodation that was comfortable, modern and included private living, learning and leisure spaces – all with unlimited wifi access, of course. We are now using this research to inform the design of new accommodation schemes in the UK, with an emphasis on a ‘home away from home’.
In the US, student expectations have developed further in the past five years. The ripple effect of the recession resulted in state cut backs and a bigger burden on students to make up the difference. University life has changed with an increased number of students opting to live at home and commute to university. Others attend community college for two years with the option of transferring credits to university in the third year.
Studies from universities across the US show that students who live on campus are more involved in campus life, more likely to complete their education and perform better than those that live off campus. It is therefore still a desirable option, but for the US students who find the money to go, a focus on customer service and an value-added experience is even more important.
Entrepreneurial spirit is rife among US students – they are more focused on study and are keen to protect their investment. Recent focus groups revealed a demand for student accommodation to act as a networking hub to form business relationships and secure future employment.
In some new accommodation, the ground floor better resembles a professional lobby area suitable for business meetings. Technology hubs also allow students to conduct and establish their own businesses. Local business participation is encouraged by some accommodation providers who arrange networking events on site with businesses.
In Australia, many more students work to fund their studies, so the focus is on helping them achieve a healthy balance between work, study and play. The emerging trend in Australian university accommodation is for 24-hour spaces that enable students to fit socialising and studying around working hours. Technological improvements mean that students don’t even have to go to the library – the tools are already in their accommodation to connect and access information.
Universities everywhere must now support life, study and rest. With a growing student desire to access everything under one roof, it’s not too far fetched to predict a move towards mixed-use campuses in the US and Australia, featuring accommodation, study rooms, shopping centres and food courts.
Institutions are tackling this challenge by partnering with private companies to help meet student demands while ensuring their own focus remains academic. This responsibility has fallen to accommodation providers in the US and Australia and increasingly in the UK. These providers must listen to students and work closely with universities to provide an all-round experience – and the universities must listen too.