Living Dangerously? “Accommodating” the Student Experience in British Universities

Living Dangerously? “Accommodating” the Student Experience in British Universities

What’s this ‘hoopla’ about ‘student experience’ in “British” higher education? How is it defined? How should it be? Whose responsibility is it?

Too many questions, and yet too little answers. Be that as it may, it is the ‘new black’ in marketing terms – a buzz, hype, fad or cliché, take your pick. But that is the problem.

Following an exploration of the experiences of rival European university study destinations such as France, Germany, and even the Netherlands, the student accommodation attribute remains one unresolved question. In this article, I argue that the topic should be of strategic importance in the marketing of study destinations, and especially for international students seeking places in British universities. Yes, this applies to African students choosing British Universities – and yes, the places are currently being filled.

As reported in the UK The Guardian, 6 October 2015, “once students went to university for education, now it’s an experience.”

Considering the current higher education climate, where students’ needs are ever-changing, and universities always playing catch-up with these changing needs, the matter needs to be addressed, and stakeholder groups need to pay some attention. I would share four initial points in this post.

First, for potential (and sometimes even returning/ continuing) students, they may become better informed of the perceived lack of accommodation as an important attribute for their study choice. As Peter Scott, Professor of higher education studies at the Institute of Education, points out in a recent Universities UK report:

“All students are different, and are becoming increasingly more so. The categorisation of students into part-time, full-time, undergraduate and postgraduate – or any mix of these, does highlight the differing needs, perceptions and/ or attitudes of each.”

While the quality of teaching (and learning from their peers) might mean a lot for part-time postgraduates attending classes on wet winter evenings, what matters most for full-time young undergraduates may well be the quality of ‘student life’, in which formal academic work may rank alarmingly low.

Second, many universities pride themselves with top student experience rankings without fully understanding and/ or explaining what the term actually means, and more importantly, from whose perspective?

Universities need to be more proactive in either providing affordable housing for students or partnering with landlords and assisting students with signing contracts for accommodation.

With this in place, students would have one less worry, and productivity/ engagement levels would increase, thus enabling better academic performance, and ultimately preparedness for the real world of work following graduation.

Third, and from a managerial angle, the consumer behaviour literature suggests that one of several ways of compensating for low rankings, may derive from the “importance weights” students assign to these attributes, and how universities capitalise on their relative advantage under these circumstances.

Perhaps universities that have invested in student housing may be better positioned to communicating this more forcefully, if for nothing else, to compensate for their proximity disadvantage – this is especially important for those universities whose student body are predominantly made up of international students – which is all.

Indeed, most student prospectuses, as well as job advertisements, especially on the higher education job platforms such as tend to highlight the campus environment (e.g. beautiful setting) before prospective applicants even get on to the main job descriptions, person specifications and course contents (for prospective students). This, in my view, is targeted at international students – as funders of these positions.

Fourth, and from a theoretical perspective, the attribute of housing, as far as the student experience is concerned, leads me to weave in the multiattribute model (Martin Fishbein) as a theoretical backdrop, the study proposes a rather understated element of the total student experience – i.e.  accommodation. This attribute arguably impacts upon a range of stakeholders – notably universities; students; private investors; and even the government. Furthermore, research on university selection shows that what might appeal to:

Part-time postgraduates attending classes on wet winter evenings, would be different from those of full-time young undergraduates, who seek quality of ‘student life’, and for whom formal academic work may rank alarmingly low.

It is imperative for scholars, and especially those involved in education research, therefore, to rethink the need for further exploration of student accommodation as part of the “proximity to home” attribute that has appeared widely in studies spanning decades, as one of the lesser ranked attributes for students’ university choice.

It is a ‘no brainer’ that the availability of on-campus living or recommended student accommodation serves as a counterpoint to the ‘proximity to home’ disadvantage. Needless to add that ‘availability’ and ‘affordability’ of (student) housing might well serve as a compensatory attribute to other lower-ranked attributes such as reputation, learning resources, community etc., as indicated in the questionnaire of the National Student Survey.

Yes, in the next week most British Universities would be welcoming new students – whether home or international – is there any room in the Inn?

Image credit here (clearer version below)

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