'Hotels on campus' as universities build up their image

University of Ulster The University of Ulster is one of many institutions with major building plans

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Universities are spending millions on new buildings as they compete to attract students - including campus hotels, an overseas student village and better bedrooms, says a survey.

Building firm Wates says 79% of them have construction plans costing more than £5m scheduled for next year.

Improved facilities for overseas and postgraduate students are planned by two-thirds of universities, it reports.

Ian Vickers of Wates said higher fees meant higher demands from students.

The shake-up in higher education funding means that universities face increasing competition - with the financial viability of degree courses depending more than ever on their ability to recruit students.

Consumer appeal

It means that universities are having to pay more attention than ever to the so-called "student experience".

And this includes the sleeping experience, with the quality of bedrooms identified as needing to be improved by one university.

Start Quote

Universities are looking to deliver modern facilities that have the 'wow' factor”

End Quote Ian Vickers Wates construction firm

The survey suggests that universities are stretching their budgets to construct image-boosting new buildings and to improve the quality of accommodation.

The lucrative overseas students market - where fees can be more than the £9,000 upper level for domestic students - appears to be a particular target.

Among the plans highlighted by Wates were one for an "international feeder college" and a purpose-built "overseas student village".

A third of universities were considering much bigger plans, such as partnerships to set up science parks or to put a hotel on the campus.

The survey, with 52 responses, allowed the institutions to remain anonymous, but Wates said it was a representative sample of different types of university. There are more than 160 higher education institutions across the UK.

Among the plans was a university which wanted a joint venture which would see it sharing university grounds with a hotel, offices and private housing.

Another had turned down a proposal for a hotel because it would have been at the university entrance and might not have projected the desired image.

Because of the anonymised research, Wates says it is not possible to say whether these are hotels aimed at a university market - such as family visiting students - or whether they are simply commercial ventures making use of a campus or historic setting.

Mr Vickers said that such building plans were taking place despite the tough financial circumstances facing higher education.

"Students are being asked to pay more than ever before for a university degree. That means they expect a quality of experience that reflects the high price they are paying.

"In order to remain competitive, universities are therefore looking to deliver modern facilities that have the 'wow' factor while also encouraging more efficient and collaborative use of space."

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