Campuses were regarded as the centre of the university experience prior to the pandemic, however, the pandemic changed everything about the experience of higher education for the vast majority of students.
Universities are now having to consider how to adapt their campuses for a post-pandemic future with a sustained and coordinated effort to make students’ time on campus more engaging, more worthwhile and more successful so that their educational experiences are meaningful and relevant.
This challenge is made more difficult with the multi-crisis including health, nature, climate and the impact of the rising cost of living and meeting student expectations. Let’s look at four examples:
1. Cost of Living Crisis
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), over three-quarters of students are “concerned” rising costs may affect how well they do in their studies. Black students, students aged over 25 and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are likely to be hardest hit by rising costs of food, transport, rent and energy. This has an obvious impact on actually getting to a physical campus. Insights from the House of Common’s library state that:
Across the UK, maintenance loans are lower in real terms than last year. There is a monthly shortfall of £439 between the average student’s maintenance loan and living costs.
How is this affecting university life?
- Without proper maintenance support, student recruitment and retention will inevitably be affected (Source).
- Students are skipping in-person lectures and taking on new debt in response to the cost of living crisis (Source).
- Many universities recommend working a maximum of 15 hours a week. Despite this, one study revealed that 9% of students work 21-30 hours a week and 11% work more than 31 hours (Source). Some students are turning to less conventional ways to fund themselves during university – from stocks and shares (5%) and social media (4%) to sex work (3%) and NFTs (1%) (Source).
The largest mental health survey ever conducted by the Insight Network and student organisation Dig-In revealed that almost half of the students surveyed in 2020 had a serious personal, emotional, behavioural or mental health problem for which they needed professional help.
A report of 21,027 students in 2020 and over 80,000 students over the last three years shows that this has risen 8% year-on-year from 34% when last published.
How is this affecting university life?
- Around 45% of students reported their mental health and well-being had worsened since the start of the autumn term of 2022 (Source).
- In the US mental health and wellbeing issues on university campuses are on the rise and 70% of university presidents see student mental health as their most pressing issue (Source).
In 2022, in a report of over 1800 students 64% of respondents claimed that their studies and university lifestyle impacted their state of wellbeing negatively (Source).
3. Climate Change
Universities are critical to tackling the climate change emergency and in recognising this UK universities aim to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035. 140 universities have backed a new set of commitments on climate action drawn up by Universities UK, including emissions reduction targets and a pledge to champion the UN Sustainable Development Goals Accord.
Universities have long been leaders in climate research, providing clear pictures of the challenges as well as technological solutions to mitigate climate change.
How is this affecting university life?
- There is a real reputational risk for any university or college that isn’t seen to be taking action to reduce its carbon footprint. (Source).
- The changing climate poses direct risks to campus and community infrastructure, historically and culturally significant buildings and artefacts and the wellbeing and safety of students, academics and
support staff (Source).
- There is a need to find new ways of working and innovations that could not only improve campus life but also drive the conversation about climate change (Source).
4. Student Expectations
In addition to this, the sector is dealing with a generation of students experiencing high-quality and personalised digital experiences and feedback in all areas of life. There are arguably similar high expectations for tertiary education to meet student expectations.
The Jisc 2021/22 digital experience insights survey of higher education students outlines technology use in their learning, their attitudes towards it and its benefits and challenges.
Key statistics include: 42% of respondents preferred mainly on-site learning, 45% would like a mix of on-site and online and 13% wanted to be taught mainly online.
How is this affecting university life? The results from the Jisc digital experience insights survey show that:
- 37% reported having input into decisions about the learning platforms used by their universities.
- More than a third (35%) rated support for online learning to be average or worse.
- Only 33% of respondents had an assessment of their digital skills and training needs.
There is an increasing amount of guidance on how institutions can make physical changes to address the issues above:
University Design Forum: “A continually evolving regulatory landscape, growing student metrics and global changes in societal and environmental needs are starting to underpin the design and management of campus spaces and places.”
Bright Spot: “There will also be operational and organizational changes… with a greater focus on sustainability, resilience and health and wellness.”
The Association of Commonwealth Universities: “To effectively uphold equity, access and inclusion in higher education, universities need to think creatively about the opportunities and insights the pandemic has generated to define the campus of the future.”
But…How Can Edtech Support This Change?
The findings of Jisc’s digital experience insights survey show that students see real benefits in universities continuing to innovate learning and teaching through online and digital technologies.
With this in mind, this blog looks at reimagining the campus through the appropriate use of edtech which is one way to take advantage of the opportunity that comes from crisis and changing student expectations, see the examples below:
The University of Texas has introduced the “Connected Campus”, leveraging edtech to allow secure, unrestricted anytime access aiming to increase engagement and enhance equity among students and faculty.
Leaders in higher education must plan physically, creating a thriving learning environment that is unconstrained by time, space, and location and the need to leverage edtech innovations from other sectors.
Educause produced guidance on the use of appropriate embedded edtech designed to offer flexible, student-centric teaching environments that enable twenty-first-century pedagogies supporting active learning.
A technology-rich collaborative space can improve explicit learning outcomes, such as grades on student assessments. It can also assist with the development of implicit outcomes, such as engagement, communication, motivation and professionalism.
Real-Time Guidance and Feedback
Morgan State University in Baltimore has adopted the use of edtech through virtual labs that are connected to a cloud-based platform linked to an instructor’s video feed to get real-time guidance and feedback.
This new way of learning is pushing boundaries and driving a culture of future engineers empowered to innovate new ideas faster and more collaboratively.
This video from the University of Edinburgh opens the conversation and answers questions like “how much energy do educational technologies actually use?” and debates the use of technology to mitigate against climate change when it’s contributing to the climate crisis.
One of our biggest challenges is to mitigate climate change and support communities to adapt and build resilience, is a lack of climate information dissemination. There is still so much maladaptation and misinformation going on that is causing even the best intended people from making the wrong choices.
Wellbeing and Mental Health
Through the ‘Step Change’ framework pilots with UK universities have demonstrated that edtech can play a role in sensitive areas such as wellbeing and mental health. It suggests sophisticated metrics about student engagement and wellbeing and research projects to improve student wellbeing and achievement.
Mentally healthy universities are a refreshed strategic framework for a whole university approach to mental health and wellbeing at universities. It calls on universities to see mental health as foundational to all aspects of university life, for all students and all staff.
These examples show how institutions have applied edtech in their teaching and learning to take steps in reimagining the campus. They included offering students opportunities to access labs virtually, supporting flexible learning and offering access to the campus in a way that supports active or blended learning models and student wellbeing and sustainability.
We’d love to know…
- How can the sector encourage students to explore new areas of campus and encourage socialisation?
- “The pandemic forced the sector to cope with the urgent, rather than the important” (Source). What can we learn from this?
- Has your institution used edtech to address any of the issues above?
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