Our relationship with space has dramatically changed over the past 12 months, as the pandemic has forced us to do pretty much everything from home. But, for institutions like universities and colleges, which are so often defined as “places” of education, what does that actually mean?
In a recent Capital Ideas podcast from Capital Law, Sue Wardle discussed this topic with three lawyers with complementary sector expertise: commercial lawyer and education lead Trish D’Souza, commercial lawyer Chris Coughlan, and partner and head of the real estate division, Leanne O’Brien.
What seemed like temporary emergency measures at the start of the pandemic has ultimately to much deeper cultural changes. In the professional services sector, people got used to working remotely, and there has been a lot of discussion around hybrid working models in the future. In the education sector, those in non-student-facing roles made a similar adjustment, however, those engaged in teaching and tutoring found it harder to determine how people were engaging in their studies and if their students felt able to ask questions.
Students want high-quality experiences for the fees they pay, with location and accessibility of facilities as well as course content and reputation affecting their decision-making around which university they attend. For many learners, the online environment was not what they signed up for, so institutions now look to create an environment that is positive and as conducive to learning as possible.
In the future, if more learning is provided through online channels that will result in a very different experience for learners. Students now will have predominantly grown up with technology and will expect that their university experience will be of the highest quality using the best technology available creating smart campuses.
There are huge real estate impacts of this shift. In some cases, pre-pandemic surveys showed space utilisation as low as 12% with institutions now making disposal, repurpose, or relocation decisions.
As universities plan their future and funding, there are some fundamental big strategic decisions to take. They need to look at delivering what students have signed up for and expect, at the same time as looking after the student’s wellbeing, and the quality of education they receive. As demand for operating in a digital environment increases there will be competition from other organisations getting smart campus brands right and institutions will be re-evaluating their estate strategies.
Listen to the full podcast here