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Creating an inclusive, social and supportive campus

Neil McLean | 10 Apr 2017 | Comments

University campuses are intended as social places, yet too often the experience is highly isolating. Moving away from home, and the securities of that environment, means that students are often left without a safety blanket, especially if they begin to struggle. This experience can lead to decreased wellbeing, and eventually to students spending less time on campus as they search out the social interaction, experiences and support they need elsewhere.

Campuses located outside of the town centre can further compound this issue, especially if those seeking out support from student services have nowhere close by at their time of need.
This was the situation that Edinburgh University found themselves in a few years ago on their Easter Bush campus, located to the south of Edinburgh. The university took the decision in 2007 to co-locate all vet teaching to this location, merging with the Roslin Institute and forging a strategic partnership with BBSRC, with an aim to deliver a European Centre of excellence in animal sciences and food security.

They developed an ambitious investment plan and 20 year masterplan to achieve this vision, and set about developing and delivering key advance buildings such as the new Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies (2010) and the new Roslin Institute (2011).

At first the campus was well served by the café spaces in these two key buildings. However as the campus began to grow, there was a distinct lack of other shared social facilities or student support for the campus, which was seen as key to its development beyond 2013. To this end the university looked to commission the Centre Building Hub.

Designed by Atkins, this new building provides a core where people can mix socially and intellectually, and a gathering space allowing meeting, sharing and interaction from across the campus and beyond. This will fundamentally improve the experience, and in turn the wellbeing, of the current and future users of the expanding campus, encouraging them to stay on campus longer.
The inclusion of a gym, cycle changing, shop, social, student services and multi faith space, as well as a science outreach centre, will have a positive impact on the wellbeing of everyone at Easter Bush campus. Most importantly, it will give students access to the on campus support they previously lacked. With the university seeing a 75% jump in students accessing counselling services between 2011-12 and 2014-15, making these easy to access on campus will be a huge benefit.

Shelagh Green at Edinburgh University said: “In a global, sector-leading university, students must be at the heart of what we do.  This project supports our world-class teaching and research to be mirrored by a world-class student experience supported by world-class services. It facilitates access to central services that support student development, wellbeing and success, both inside and outside the classroom, enabling our student to flourish. The integrated design based on hub and spoke delivery enables students at Easter Bush to benefit from the high quality expertise available at other campus sites. This approach affords the flexibility to anticipate and respond to the student need through ‘pop-up’ provision and the provision of frontline expertise on key aspects of the student experience mapped to the academic life-cycle. Working across structural boundaries, it puts the student at the heart.”

For all students, going into higher education offers both challenges and opportunities. The task for universities is to help students capitalise on the positive mental health benefits of higher education while identifying and providing appropriate support to those who are more vulnerable to its pressures. Providing students with the support they need to fulfil their potential is not only in the interest of the institution, but also in the interest of society as a whole. With mental health issues on the rise, the importance of creating inclusive, social, and supported campus environments, like Edinburgh’s Easter Bush campus, are greater than ever.