The New Realists Blog
Five things accommodation teams should know about this year’s students
Launched on 17 September, The New Realists reveals what going to university means to this generation, and how they navigate their way into and through their first year. For those of us providing student accommodation it’s a valuable insight into what’s important to this year’s students, and how we can support them to get the most from their time at university. Here are five key take-aways for accommodation professionals.
1. The stakes are very high
This year’s students believe that the world is becoming more chaotic and risky, and that they will face more challenges than their parents did. What they most want to achieve in life is a job that they love, and financial stability, and 69% think that going to university is the only way to get these things. In this context, dropping out would be catastrophic. Accommodation has always played an important role in helping students to feel happy and settled at university. Now more than ever it’s important to create welcoming and supportive environments, so that this year’s students have the very best chance of completing their course.
2. Students are highly diverse
This year’s cohort is the most diverse we’ve ever seen, as the sector works towards its aim of widening access. But this means that traditional aspects of student life, such as Freshers’ Week, need to go much further to feel fully inclusive. This cohort is also diverse in terms of their lifestyles as well as their backgrounds, with 22% saying they are teetotal and 19% meat free. To meet the needs of this year’s students, inclusive approaches need to be embedded into every aspect of accommodation management. There will be times when we need to challenge our assumptions about what typical students want, because there is no such thing as a typical student any more.
3. Being there is still important
Even in this digital age, students still prefer face-to-face forms of learning, such as lectures and seminars, over online learning. In fact, if lectures were to be phased out, most would prefer a different kind of face-to-face learning over a digital offer. Today’s students still want to go to university in person. They value its role in helping them to become independent adults, and the friends they make are a huge support as they go through the ups and downs of student life. Accommodation gives students this opportunity to be part of a community of learners and can provide them with the social opportunities they are looking for.
4. But too many students are lonely
Just over a quarter of first years are often or always lonely, even towards the end of the academic year. This has a significant impact on their wellbeing, for example only half of students who are often or always lonely feel happy, compared to 90% of those who are never lonely. Loneliness also has an impact on students being satisfied with life and feeling that the things they do in life are worthwhile. Accommodation has an important role to play here. Giving students the opportunity to socialise and make friends throughout the year will be a major contributor to their wellbeing.
5. Students don’t always access the services they need
When students use university wellbeing or mental health services, they rate them very highly. But a quarter of first year students say they haven’t used these services not because they didn’t need to, but because they were anxious, afraid or didn’t trust the service. Trained accommodation staff and residence assistants can play a vital role in engaging students with appropriate university services at the point of need. The recently published Student Wellbeing guide shares good practice guidelines to help private providers put this in place.
Today’s students are both realistic and resilient, but they are emerging into adulthood in a time of political, social and economic instability. How we run our accommodation really can make or break the student experience for these New Realists, which is a responsibility that none of us can take lightly.
– Jenny Shaw, Student Experience Director, Unite Students