Universities must adapt to thrive, says Balfour Beatty

A report by Balfour Beatty on making universities fit for the future has pointed to the importance of a “seamless digital experience” for students as essential to the progress of higher education, particularly in their accommodation, lecture halls, and libraries.

In ‘Universities Fit for the Future: How to thrive in a skills economy’, the infrastructure group calls for an “adapt to thrive” approach in order to create the right environment for the 1.7 million young people currently studying full time at universities.

“The boom in 24/7 learning is already replacing the traditional academic structure, and this will only continue to grow,” Balfour Beatty said.

Up to date digital infrastructure is essential to ensuring student satisfaction in living spaces, as students demand high-performing WiFi in their homes, as well as well fitted out spaces for cooking, study and recreation.

Balfour Beatty predicts that with the increase in cross-disciplinary learning, there will be an increase in new purpose-built hubs bringing business and universities together. Teaching spaces will also need to become more flexible, as students listen to lectures from other locations while attending campus for tutorials and seminars

Acknowledging the power of the Internet and the dominance of search engines, the report highlighted the impact on libraries: “The library has not been the starting point for accessing information for many years and libraries will continue to evolve as they become even less book orientated. The library will have to become more accessible, with 24/7 access policies, self-service loan facilities, welcoming cafés and digital solutions to access information with greater use of online journals, e-books and digitised versions of core texts.”

Robert Byrnes, framework manager for the University of Manchester at Balfour Beatty, said: “To thrive today and to compete for the best and brightest students across the globe our universities will need to customize their offer and work more closely with business to give young people the skills that are directly relevant to the workplace guaranteeing them employability. This offer needs to be reflected in the campuses in which students live and learn.”

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