Eve Beere Mills & Reeve LLP

Inside the digital campus

As the Higher Education campus strives to reposition itself following the sweeping changes in campus learning driven by the pandemic, what are the technology solutions institutions should consider to make the campus a more desirable and sustainable place to live, work and study? Eve Beere writes.

Developing worlds

Moving towards a campus that can call itself “digital” will require an innovative approach to campus facilities and design. We expect a reduced demand for fixed office and desk space, with a transition to hubs where colleagues come together to collaborate and develop ideas. Repurposing this space provides an opportunity for re-design, with technology at the core. Moveable walls with built-in display screens could be used to divide breakout spaces; device charging points in social areas could provide valuable meeting hubs for students. There is clearly an appetite amongst the student population for new opportunities to socialise; in Save the Student’s November 2020 survey 49% of respondents described themselves as “really worried” about facing loneliness. Being forced off campus by the pandemic has highlighted the importance of students being together as part of the whole university experience.

Several universities across the UK have already rolled out apps which support the student experience by providing real time access to timetables, event information and monitor usage of other facilities. Partnering with US app developers such as Guidebook (who already work with several UK universities) and Campus could offer the opportunity to build advanced apps, which integrate third-party solutions such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Combined with interactive data screens on campus to show capacity in spaces like libraries and canteens and provide real time campus and transport information, use of facilities and transportation across campus should become more streamlined.

Powering up

With increased use of technology will come increased energy demands. The digital campus must be powered in a way that is compatible with an institution’s sustainability goals and the drive towards net zero carbon. This is where we may see developments on a macro scale, with institutions installing their own solar and wind power solutions within their campuses. Such solutions wouldn’t necessarily take up vast amounts of square footage. For example, solar panels affixed to exterior walls are already growing in popularity in residential and commercial developments.

However, to store and distribute this energy effectively HE institutions may have to adopt radical solutions. One suggestion (promoted by data and power solution producer OE Electrics) is that institutions should transition to DC power and develop DC migrogrids across their campuses. These large battery networks would allow HE institutions to store and distribute the power they generate and overcome the inherent intermittencies of renewable energy sources like solar.

These solutions would contribute to an institution’s sustainability agenda, itself a powerful draw for ESG-conscious prospective students. Regardless, HEPI’s 2020 student survey found that buildings and campuses are considered a driver of good value by respondents. Taking steps towards a fully technologically integrated campus may pay dividends for HE institutions that are willing (and have the necessary investment) to pursue and adopt new solutions. Technology has played a pivotal role of late in facilitating home-working. Implemented creatively it is could also have a key role in a reimagined campus experience.

Find out more about the future of Universities and Colleges and the real estate sector with our interactive ‘Mapping the FutuRE’

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