Airbnb-style rooms for commuter students to share in campus life

University of Hertfordshire is stepping up efforts to include live-at-home students more fully in extracurricular activities

September 1, 2018
Hotel vacancy sign
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A UK university is introducing Airbnb-style rooms for students who live at home, to help them take advantage of campus facilities.

Under a pilot scheme, the University of Hertfordshire has set aside a handful of ensuite rooms on its Hatfield campus, which can be booked for about £40 a night.

It is now considering extending the project in the coming academic year as part of wider plans to improve the experience of the university’s 5,000 undergraduate “commuter students”.

“The sad fact is that students who go home at 5pm are missing out on many of the chances to participate in sports and other societies,” said Quintin McKellar, Hertfordshire’s vice-chancellor.

Many of Hertfordshire’s 19,000 or so undergraduates, like those at other universities, also liked to work late into the night in the library – an opportunity that was not available for those reliant on public transport, added Professor McKellar. “At some points in the calendar, 1am to 3am is the peak time for our learning resource centre,” he said.

Other initiatives to help those travelling to Hertfordshire each day from their family home include Herts Success, which offers one night’s free accommodation in a local hotel, including breakfast, before one of their exams.

The university has also introduced a slogan, “Go Herts”, accompanied by merchandise featuring new corporate branding, as part of efforts to foster greater community spirit on campus, with a strong focus on helping commuter students play a more active role in university life.

These moves come amid growing calls to adapt university working practices to help the growing number of live-at-home students in the UK. About 78,000 undergraduates aged 20 or under travelled to university from their family home each day in 2014-15 – up from about 72,000 in 2009-10, according to a report by the social mobility charity the Sutton Trust in February 2018.

At several universities, including the University of Wolverhampton, City, University of London and Glasgow Caledonian University, more than half of students were commuters in 2014-15, the report added. Universities with high populations of commuter students have been urged by education experts to ditch 9am classes and reconsider groupwork assessment, which may discriminate against those who have to travel long distances to university.

With Hertfordshire’s campus in Hatfield attracting many commuter students from nearby Luton, Stevenage and also the north London suburbs, the university has set up its own bus service to help students arrive at campus, as well as connect communities in Hertfordshire.

“We have 106 buses which carried about 7 million passengers last year, which is helpful for us and the local community,” said Professor McKellar.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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