This blog is written by Giles Carden, Chief of Staff and Director of Strategic Projects, Lancaster University. It originally appeared as a case study in HEPI’s report Homeward Bound: Defining, understanding and aiding ‘commuter students’ by David Maguire and David Morris.
Lancaster University has embodied the principles of the ‘sticky campus’ and aims to foster a sense of community for all students. Commuter students make up a very small proportion of Lancaster students, and it is therefore important for us to prevent this group feeling a sense of isolation.
The Lancaster collegiate system is particularly important in this regard. Students (and staff) are all assigned to a college regardless of whether or not they are residential, in order to foster friendships and provide a sense of community.
We now run events in Welcome Week for all commuter students with talks about the facilities and services available specifically for them, this includes learning support and making use of travelling time, wellbeing issues, and providing a specific opportunity to meet other commuting students.
Our space planning has ensured there is a variety of spaces on campus for students to work and relax in, from quiet study spaces, through relaxed study spaces allowing conversations, to common rooms for playing pool, darts and table football. Each college offers commuter students access to a kitchen where they can make a hot drink or use a microwave oven and space to enable them to congregate to eat and socialise. Colleges also offer quiet study rooms for these students. Bookable group study rooms are also available on a 24/7 basis.
We have also recognised the importance of developing a sense of belonging as early as possible to students’ academic departments. Departments put on a series of activities in Welcome Week for students to do in pairs or groups in order to help them get to know one another and the department’s staff.
In 2017, we commissioned a survey of commuting students to establish how we could improve their experience. We are now ensuring that two of our nine colleges put on some events specifically targeted at commuters throughout the year.
Collectively these strategies have proved important in ensuring commuter students feel a sense of community and are engaged and satisfied with their student experience.
Every little thing helps.
Government may we’ll offer incentives to local, commuting students by way of lower fees
A possible alternative for students still living at home with parents or with their own accommodation is to set up a cooperative or community interest company (CIC) with groups in other University locations and organise “accommodation swaps” that allow students to attend a non local University without incurring additional, heavy accommodation costs