Building to improve student wellbeing

Philip Watson | 07 Oct 2016 | Comments

Figures recently shared in the Guardian show that the number of students seeking counselling at university has rocketed by 50% in the last five years, putting services under increasing pressure.

This is in part due to increased pressure for students to get high grades and subsequently good jobs in order to warrant their increasing debts and indeed, pay them off. Interestingly, experts also have attributed a large part of the increase to a new willingness among young people to ask for help, particularly noting an increase in the number of young men approaching counselling services. This increase reflects a wider societal shift, with millennials more tuned into their own wellbeing than they’ve ever been before. For them, it has become a priority, rather than a nice to have, and they will make a decision based on how happy or healthy a job or university will make them feel.

As architects and designers we have an essential role to play in creating spaces that actively improve the health of people using them. This is particularly important in high pressure environments such as universities, where students can spend extended periods studying indoors. By designing spaces to incorporate plenty of natural light, clean air circulation and giving users a sense of community and ownership, we can make a real positive impact on the wellbeing of students.

However, making people happier and healthier is more than just a noble ambition. Students with greater access to daylight have been found to achieve 5-14% higher test scores and learn 20-26% faster, creating a real incentive for universities to start taking wellbeing seriously. Now, having inspiring and uplifting buildings is a necessity if universities are to distinguish themselves from the competition and attract the best students.

I welcome this shift and it’s something myself and the wider architecture team at Atkins have been considering in our projects for some time now. Bournemouth University is an excellent example of a project where we’ve applied our WellBriefing service, a tool that engages with building users to incorporate their wellbeing needs into the design brief right from the outset.

Designing buildings for the people that use them not only makes economic sense, it’s key to creating a lasting legacy. This is even truer in institutions like universities that are nurturing our future generations; we have an obligation to help improve young people’s wellbeing wherever we can.