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How Universities have prepared themselves for the new academic year

Manchester Metropolitan University
How Universities have prepared themselves for the new academic year and how the pandemic changed things

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It’s that time of year again, when the studious amongst us find themselves at the start of a new university academic year.

The last cohort of fresh-faced students had a bumpy year interspersed with lockdowns, cancelled plans and isolations. Everyone is hoping for a smoother ride this year.

So what awaits the class of 2021/22 and how are universities changing to adapt to this post-pandemic world?

How are universities changing?

We’ve worked closely with Manchester Metropolitan University to help them improve the visitor experience across their campus. In typical forward-thinking style, staff there had already put plans into motion for the evolution and reconfiguration of the campus well before Covid-19 struck, but the pandemic has accelerated the changes taking place. Not only that, but it’s also adjusted the direction of travel.

Responding to a change in habits

Campus improvement works are no longer just about modernising and expanding but are now about accommodating a modern – sometimes distanced – way of learning. That means making provisions for people who are specifically on campus for community and collaboration. There’s also a clear and irreversible move towards more virtual learning, even when we can meet in person. The reality is that at any one time there will be people learning remotely as well as coming to campus.

And all that means that our campuses need a bit of a shake up.

Making better use of spaces

No longer will there be whole floors of a building dedicated to a single faculty. To maximise space, universities right around the country are rethinking what spaces to allocate to different uses:

  • Individual offices dedicated to academics now spending large proportions of their working week from home? No.
  • Flexible spaces that can accommodate a variety of collaborative activities depending on who’s in the building? Yes.

At University College London we’re devising a wayfinding strategy that will help the estates team see their existing spaces with fresh eyes, so that they can optimize the use of their buildings and accommodate more flexible working patterns.

And at the University of Bedfordshire we’re working on a spatial branding project to create a series of branded welcome spaces that encourage students to engage with the space and with each other. We’re excited about the brief on this one: we’ll be getting creative with bright colours, photography and shapes to demarcate spaces.

Renaming buildings

When things are in flux, it makes less sense to refer to a building by its associated subject. That’s because there’s a good chance that before long those uses will have moved on and someone else will be occupying the building. So, Manchester Metropolitan is renaming one of its new buildings (the Arts and Humanities Building) to Grosvenor East. The new building retains the historic portico overlooking All Saints Park (the former Grosvenor Square) and the new building name creates a focal point based around the location.

In this simple change, they’ve just future-proofed the building against inevitable changes whilst opening up possibilities for adapting the campus assets in future.

Making the most of temporary stages

Refurbs take time and, now more than ever, it makes sense to phase redevelopment works. One of our projects with Manchester Metropolitan is to devise a temporary wayfinding solution that can be used this coming academic year in its Grosvenor West building, before it is eventually refurbished in 2022.

The temporary solution will consider and reflect the wider long-term strategy that will eventually tie the Grosvenor East and Grosvenor West buildings together.

Creating new outdoor communal space

Universities can also get creative with how to help students meet up safely by making more of their outdoor areas and meeting points. With some of our clients we focus on spatial branding, to help cement a clear sense of arrival and space, and giving ownership to the students who congregate there.

New year, new university experience?

“Never make forecasts, especially about the future.”

That’s the advice of Hollywood film producer Samuel Goldwyn. And after the year we’ve all had we can certainly see the wisdom in it.

That being said, we are cautiously optimistic that, as campuses have prepared themselves to be more resilient, the class of 2021/22 will see less disruption and be able to engage with the university experience in the way that suits them best.

So, from all of us, good luck to everyone starting university this autumn!


Is it time your university campus had a refresh? Let us help you make the most of your space. Get in touch on 0161 241 3174.

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