New students would benefit from formal ‘Pro Vice Chancellors for Transition’, says UPP Director

Jon Wakeford, Director of Strategy and Communications at UPP, outlined the case for putting the student experience at the heart of designing universities and called for formal Pro Vice Chancellors for Transition – speaking at the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) 2017 Annual Conference in London today.

Under the conference theme ‘How do you create a University for Students? The Challenge Ahead’, Jon emphasised the need to assist students before they enrol.

He said: “One policy initiative more universities might adopt – to create a university for students – might be the formalisation of the role of Pro VC for Transition. Were this more widespread, it may provide a still greater focus on guiding new students in independent study and living.”

Drawing on findings from UPP’s Annual Student Experience Survey, due to be published later this summer, he told attendees that this year’s survey suggests 87% of student respondents found it difficult to cope with a range of issues that they might encounter when moving away from home.

Highlighting the need for making wellbeing and mental health a significant consideration when designing a university for students, Jon said: “Our own teams in student accommodation are trained to understand the pressures students face and recognise the signs of isolation, anxiety and depression to ensure that either we and/or the university can intervene, when required.”

He added that 83% of students that took part in this year’s survey felt that the quality of student accommodation was important or very important to a good student experience.

Jon commented that: “It is clear that students still view university as part residential experience” and that UPP’s approach is to “routinely design technologically-enabled peer work space in residences along with a far wider range of other facilities, both academic and social.”

Speaking at the conference, Jon said: “Universities do of course have intersecting roles and priorities and this will always be the case. Creating a university for students therefore means ensuring the positive impacts and reach of an institution are cast across all parts of the student journey.

“From the work we have done, it is clear that universities have both great brand value, but more importantly brand loyalty and I think it is this that should encourage institutions to be more innovative in the use of their strategic economic position, to establish life-long relationships with their students.”

Commenting on how the political and economic climate is affecting the sector, he said: “…there remains significant uncertainty both in terms of the future landscape of higher education, but also in the changing needs of students – in approaches to pedagogy, but also in the supporting infrastructure that sits around it and makes that pedagogy effective.”

He spoke in a session alongside Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor, University of Buckingham and Oliver Milton, HawkinsBrown Architects. The session was on A University for Students – what do they want and need?