Building the campus of the future

The pandemic has accelerated a shift towards multi-modal campuses that accommodate hybrid learning and promote collaboration

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12 May 2022
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The past two years have prompted many universities to question how they use their physical campus. At a webinar hosted by EAB in partnership with Times Higher Education, Michael Fischer, director of research advisory services at EAB, discussed how institutions could adapt to the changing role of the campus. “For facilities officers and chief financial officers, the pandemic led to lots of questions as to what the campus of the future might look like,” he said.

Students’ expectations of university spaces are higher than ever before. “They see sleek consumer experiences enabled by technology and apply these to the campus. They want inclusive design, spaces for collaboration and socialisation, a focus on sustainability and flexibility given potentially changing future needs.”

Two key areas in terms of student facilities are sleeping and dining, and institutions are already innovating in what they provide. George Mason University in Virginia has a fleet of 32 food delivery robots, for example, which improve efficiency and lower costs in food outlets. Other universities are designing more inclusive living quarters that better support under-served communities, emphasising privacy while maintaining a sense of community in communal areas. 

In learning spaces, universities are keen to evolve from the pandemic. “Many were frustrated with the quality of the experience as we shifted to emergency virtual instruction,” Fischer said. Lecture halls have been redesigned or adapted on some sites so they are more interactive. The University of Toronto has thrown away the amphitheatre model of seating in favour of groups of tables for discussion, including microphones and screen-sharing technology and better access for those with disabilities. “This way the hall serves different needs rather than a static, didactic presentation,” he said.

Oregon State University has mirrored the in-the-round experience made popular by TEDx talks. Meanwhile, “dead spaces” such as corridors or under-used classrooms are becoming areas of active learning with whiteboards and other tools available. 

Communal spaces such as libraries are also adapting for a more hybrid model, Fischer explained. More are rebranding themselves as “academic commons” that bring together a host of facilities including cafés and meeting spaces as well as core library services. The University of Northampton worked in partnership with the local community to build a facility on its Waterside campus that is open to students and citizens alike.

Research facilities are also becoming more multifunctional and taking a cross-disciplinary approach. “The problems universities are trying to solve through research are no longer discipline specific, so we require more examples of interdisciplinary estates where people can collaborate,” Fischer said. Some institutions are creating “shell spaces” that can be flexible about researchers’ future needs, and there is a greater emphasis on breakout and collaboration areas. 

Non-academic staff’s needs are also hugely important. EAB conducted a survey into remote and hybrid work among professional services staff, finding that around 35 per cent would likely mix their time between on-campus and remote working, compared with just 7 per cent pre-pandemic. A number of universities, such as the University of Leicester, have run their own surveys to gauge how they will serve non-academic staff in years to come.

The aim is to ensure that when people are on campus, it’s a positive and worthwhile experience with spaces for collaboration, focused work and socialising – a guiding principle that applies across faculty, students and administration staff alike. 

Watch the webinar on demand above or on the EAB YouTube channel.

Find out more about EAB.

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