A key aim of the University’s strategy is to increase quality across the board and in doing so, our reputation. Improving the student experience is a vital element in recruitment, degree success, employability, all of which will be reflected in rankings. The further enhancement of campus space will contribute towards this significantly.
An example of this is the new South Gower building, which will see modernised student spaces with a large lecture theatre and a smaller, Harvard-style lecture theatre, as well as study areas which support students in traditional and informal study. These facilities are responding to the continuing demand for more study spaces from the student community. Recent improvements to the Hartley Library also demonstrate how important building work and renovation can be for enhancing student experience.
At the same time, infrastructure developments across campuses are also vital for the wellbeing and quality of experience for staff working at the University. Campus facilities and buildings were raised as a key issue in the 2016 staff survey. Work environment was the second most important subject for staff, coming above pay and employment, with over 300 comments on the subject. It is clear this is an area which staff at the University are keen to see improved.
In his All-Staff Address earlier in June, President and Vice-Chancellor Sir Christopher Snowden referenced this, saying:
We know we have buildings which are unsatisfactory for our colleagues to work in; indeed the space is so limited that it is limiting, in their view, their performance.
As well as being a potential contributor towards performance and productivity levels, there is a connection between working environments and mental health and wellbeing for staff. Dr Nick Maguire, Associate Professor in Clinical Psychology explains that research has shown that there is a connection between poor mental health and facilities. Over-crowding, air quality and lighting all have a likely impact on our wellbeing.
Improvements around campus in terms of buildings and open spaces will therefore not only benefit the University’s current and future students, but are also aimed at enhancing our staff community.
It has not yet been confirmed exactly what these future developments will involve and while plans are being developed, we await more detail on the capital programme. In the Staff Address it was shared that funds will be used on physical improvements across the University’s estate, involving both replacements for some of our older buildings and entirely new facilities on several campuses.
In the meantime, modernisation across campus is already taking place, with the current construction at South Gower and of new engineering facilities at our Boldrewood Innovation Campus for the National Infrastructure Laboratory. Landscaping of the open spaces on Highfield Campus has also recently been undertaken with staff and student safety and experience in mind, including new paving and safer crossings outside the Jubilee Sports Centre and a green space created behind Hartley Library.
South Gower, Boldrewood Innovation Campus and the new Chamberlain Halls are all good examples of the quality we can expect over the next 10 years of campus renovation. At South Gower the development is not simply about the building itself, but the outside space as well. New courtyard areas will be created, and the new building is being cleverly designed to work with the changing ground levels on Highfield Campus. A new shared space designed for the end of Salisbury road will create an open flow from Mountbatten and Zepler buildings all the way past the new building and down into campus. The aim is to create a more connected campus and use public space to help create a stronger community feel. This ‘plaza’ design approach will open up the estate, and is expected to be replicated in other future developments on campus.
Although the South Gower building will be primarily used by students and academic staff, the new building and landscape improvements will benefit all who visit and work on Highfield Campus, whether by using its new café or enjoying an improved experience while passing through campus.
Communication is a focus for the Estates and Facilities team who, working with colleagues in the Communications department, will be looking to ensure that they share information and plans with staff and students before embarking on major changes. Key updates are posted on the building projects section of our Community website and on Sussed. Sir Christopher highlighted communication in his All Staff Address, stating:
We will be sharing with you as we go forward the initial plans for the buildings, so you will have a chance to comment on it before they are committed.
By improving the buildings, facilities and open spaces on our campuses, we are in turn creating a better place to work, study and live; by improving our environment, we are focusing on the needs of the University community. Though much of the work may be focused on the student experience, it is clear that there are countless benefits for staff and the local community too.