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What new research is Unite Students working on in 2023?

12 January 2023

Jenny Shaw, HE External Engagement Director, looks at what 2023 will bring at Unite Students, including new research and resources to share with the Higher Education sector.

After the unexpected events of the last few years it’s nice to be able to plan again, though with an thread of ‘expect the unexpected’ woven through everything, because of course we are all a lot more risk-savvy than we used to be.

Student accommodation is high on the agenda for 2023. The shortages of suitable accommodation in some cities have focused the public and political mind on the important role that it plays in the overall student experience. We’re also seeing an ever-increasing diversity among students, thanks in part to the long-term success of widening access measures over that last two decades. This means it’s never been more important to focus on inclusion and belonging in student accommodation to ensure that we achieve true equity. We’ve set out our plans for the year with these things in mind.

During January and February we’ll be working with neurodivergent students to understand their needs during the transition to university, especially in their accommodation. As well as drawing on data from our 2022 Applicant Index, we’re working with a student-led organisation to listen to students and to co-create a short report for the sector. In line with our value Room for Everyone, we want to create a resource that will help us, and others, to create a more comfortable and inclusive environment for the growing number of neurodivergent students.

Mindful of the growing pressures on students we’ll also be focusing on our in-house student support. Over the first half of the year we’ll be refining our new Support to Stay model, and piloting targeted hardship support in response to the cost of living crisis.

In the coming months we’re stepping up our work with the Universities UK Taskforce on Student Drug Use to develop guidance for student accommodation teams across the UK. We’ll be helping accommodation teams to make their voices heard as part of the research phase, and bringing together an accommodation supplement to the main guidance. This project is about reducing harms to students and providing better support – something we’re passionate about. Greater alignment with local law enforcement, within universities, and between universities and private providers will empower accommodation teams to support students more effectively.

Our Commission on Living Black at University will be coming to an end this Spring, but we’re determined that its impact will be felt for years to come. January will see us taking our last deep-dive into the report’s recommendations, and the launch of the first of a series of toolkits. We’ll be launching toolkits throughout the first half of the year, and announcing structural changes and best practice within the sector thanks to a team of highly committed and expert Commissioners. Ultimately, we want to eradicate the ‘Belonging Gap’ experienced by Black students in student accommodation, and we’re sure this will have a positive impact on mental health and attainment.

As we move towards the summer we’ll be working on our second Applicant Index, this time in collaboration with HEPI (Higher Education Policy Institute). It will be interesting to see how things have changed since last year, and to track the ongoing legacy of the pandemic on prospective students. We’re planning to get these results out early in July to enable accommodation and student support teams to prepare for the new cohort and fine-tune their induction and welcome programmes.

Throughout the year we’ll be podcasting on hot topics, and meeting university and sector partners at conferences and round tables. It’s such a privilege to work in support of the higher education sector and its students. Together we have an impact on thousands of young lives, and in the coming year it feels as though this will be more important than ever.

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