Rediscovering the campus as the ideal place to study

07 March 2017 by Communication BK

In a world of overstimulation and distractions, people are once more in search of peace and concentration in order to work and study. At universities, students and staff are rediscovering the importance of physical encounters and a place where you can study with others or concentrate on your work alone.

Investing in accommodation is synonymous with investing in education and research

There can be no innovation without laboratories, no community without offices and a lack of places to study leads to lower success rates and less satisfied students. In an age in which it is becoming increasingly possible to work just about anywhere, the quality of spaces for work or study actually seems to be becoming more important. This is good news for anyone with an interest in the quality of space.

This is one of the conclusions from the ‘Campus NL’ study conducted by the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment TU Delft on behalf of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). All fourteen Dutch universities took part.

Remote working is easy thanks to digitisation, yet study areas and university libraries are packed with students. Remote learning is only partially effective. For this reason, universities need to continue to invest in good accommodation. This finding is completely at odds with expectations just ten years ago. At that time, it was assumed that educational institutions could start selling buildings because students and researchers would increasingly work from home. “Students are accustomed to deal with a lot of incentives that continuously require attention, such as Whatsapp, Facebook and Netflix. They are well aware that this distracts from the study, which requires concentration,” says Alexandra Den Heijer, associate professor of Real Estate Management at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment and principal investigator of the Campus Research Team. ‘Educational buildings and above all university libraries provide space for contemplation and protect against overstimulation. And, of course, they also offer an opportunity to meet others.’

Even the Open University, a specialist in remote learning, is increasingly using existing university and other buildings for lessons and study events. The result is significantly higher success rates. For conventional universities this is also ground for investing in good, modern accommodation and quiet study spaces. The pressure of work has increased significantly for students and retaking examinations is becoming more difficult. It is therefore increasingly important for students that universities offer them a place where they can concentrate properly. 

More intensive and flexible use: more people in the same space

The research report reveals that Dutch universities are responding to these changes. In the last ten years, they have seen a 22% increase in students and a 5% increase in employees. This means that more people are being accommodated on the same floor area and the available space is being used more efficiently. In educational buildings, more informal places for study and group work are beginning to appear. What used to be empty corridors have been enhanced with seating, university restaurants have expanded and wireless networks have been extended to reach outdoor areas. On campus, more and more buildings to house Dutch and international students are beginning to appear. The campus is increasingly transforming into a vibrant city. 

A more effective and efficient allocation of workspaces is a decisive factor for the future of university campuses. This can also help to respond to the fact that it is difficult to predict future student numbers. Educational institutions are advised to invest in smart tools: resources that enable you to use a smartphone or information sign to find out where there are study places available in a building. These can help achieve a better match between limited resources and people searching for a space. 

The sustainable transformation of the campus is an important theme for universities. Most are eager to be trailblazers in the energy transition and serve as living labs for innovation.  In 2017, this view is not only shared by researchers, designers and other building experts, but also by directors, controllers and policymakers in education and research. That is good news, because together they will ultimately be responsible for building the campus of the future.

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