Creating a better student experience

Creating a better student experience.

The United Kingdom’s higher education system is one of the most reputable and recognised in the world. More than 475,000 school leavers decide to attend one of our 280 university institutions every year. They have an impact on all aspects of our lives in the UK, and they’re vital for our future.

The UK’s universities want to provide students with a world-class education so that they can achieve their full potential by offering a good student experience.

Attracting genuine international students and highly skilled staff to study and work in the UK is important to enrich cultures and bring different perspectives to university life. An immigration system that helps achieve this is also important.

Rising student expectations
Increasing the tuition fee cap has led to a focus on the student and their expectations in a way not seen in UK higher education before. Students are now paying more for their studies and expect a more lucrative return on investment, whether in academic quality, employability or the facilities offered to them.
University strategies must become more flexible in order to best attract students in a highly competitive market, assessing their position and mapping the customer segments most important to them.

This steady escalation of students applying for university over the last decade has triggered the creation of new institutions. Campuses are expanding at an accelerated rate and competition between universities is fierce. Each university department is funded by the amount of students they recruit and not by a central board.

Some universities find it easier to attract talented students than others. According to an NUS report, 35% of students wanted to go to university ‘for the experience’. Along with the reputation of academic credentials, the student experience is largely important to prospective students. How far the university is from the beach or how large the student union is, are a vital component in the decision making process.

Linking estates, strategy and the student
The sector must continue to ensure that their space and their strategy is aligned, particularly as student demand points to dramatically different estate requirements as compared to even the recent past.

Changing ways of learning mean different demands are being made of space. For example, there has been a shift from large lecture theatres built for one‑way learning to more collaborative workspaces. The same can be said of library spaces, with a move towards shared areas fit for group work over independent workstations.

These changes have driven significant investment in new premises so that institutions reflect student demands.

To align space with strategy can be a challenge and universities could be forgiven for not making the most of their unique positioning to aid students making that important choice.

Education, research, and professional practice underpins many academic foundations, to form the basis of strategic planning. The blend of these ‘ingredients’ is unique to every university. Reasonable strategic design research will uncover brand truths to avoid confusion and mediocracy, creating good foundations for a distinctive university brand position for ultimately, a better student experience.

Improving the student experiences and maintaining an identity with distinctiveness in the process.

Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about about what you know. Jim Rohn.

Reducing the gap between student degrees and employment needs is important. Better employment opportunities with the right skills is one of many reasons students choose university. Investigation of local enterprise and historic connections with local academic institutions can resonate with international students, building a good mental picture of the school for future reference.

An effective way to obtain these insights is through structured group sessions that tease genuine emotional elements to form the nucleus of a university brand. Combine this with good research, student centric insights, and align personality attributes with university values and you are ready to express the brand’s attitude in a way that offers more appeal.

Case study.

Bournemouth University is adapting and changing to meet the demands of modern higher education. Technological advances have shrunk the globe allowing global HE to embrace comprehensive internationalisation as the basis of innovation.

By embracing new technologies, applying some traditional ones, with their unique blend of education, research and professional practice, the transformation of a tired looking common room was another way to create a better student experience. Embedding brand attributes that were uncovered during strategic investigation helped them to articulate their position to reflect their unique offer to a global market.

An organisation that respects and builds on its foundations and has the confidence to change with the times will thrive.

Bournemouth University has a liberating advantage of progressing the Global BU initiative. With high standards, awareness and momentum, BU Global will reach high performing teaching staff, partners and students. This in turn can have dramatic results by developing global talent.

The examples shown below are images of the Global Engagement hub, created to stimulate, challenge and reward university experiences in a world-class learning community. This work linked estates with ‘brand’ to embraced spaces with a purposeful identity.

Our Universities develop highly skilled graduates, helping businesses innovate and carrying out life-changing research. Universities provide the building blocks for a successful society. Our universities are unique in their own way and it’s important to continue to communicate this to global audiences with integrated design solutions.

University spaces often need to meet many tasks and there is no reason a space shouldn't serve many of these requirements to offer flexibility for individual or team functions, such as this example at Bournemouth University.

If you would like to know more about embedding the design of spaces within the student experience, please contact

• 35 new universities have been created in the UK since 2001. UCAS
• Competition between all universities is now highly competitive.
• Dramatically rising fees mean dramatically rising student and parent expectations that are proving increasingly challenging.
• China is currently the largest exporter of students into the UK.
• Our key universities increasingly have satellite campuses worldwide.
• There is a growing disparity between graduate degrees and employers needs.
• The average graduate debt will rise to £53K in 2013 and will take 11 years to pay off.
• Flexible and adaptive spaces within the campus have become vital.

Times Higher Education. 7 key challenges UK higher education. August 5 2015.
Workplace Habitat, Orangebox 2013. Nathan Hurley.
Higher Education Statistics Agency - Students In Higher Education Institutions, 2012
Office of National Statistics, ONS. Graduates in the Labour Market, 2012.
BIS: Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. Estimating The Value Of Education Exports, 2011.
Higher Education Statistics Agency - Students In Higher Education Institutions, 2012.

Andy Griib. MA MCSD. Design thinking to engage students.

Below are a few pictures of the completed Global Engagement Centre. Bottom right show the common room before the installation.