University Futures: how space and buildings impact community
  • October 25, 2017

University Futures: how space and buildings impact community

Join a collaborative research project exploring the role and impact of space and buildings on the university community.

Alterline are bringing together a group of universities as part of a collaborative research project to explore the role that teaching and informal spaces on campus play in influencing feelings of community amongst staff and students. We are inviting you to be part of the University Futures project. The 'How space and buildings impact community' project will inform strategy and action to improve students’ experience of community on campus; the findings will impact space planning, new building projects, refurbishments, staff engagement and student communications.

Research focus

The objectives will be shaped and influenced by participating institutions, however we expect to explore the role and impact that different types of formal and informal spaces have on feelings of community between staff and students, including:

How space and buildings impact community


How space and buildings impact communityThe 2017 National Student Survey asked students, for the first time, whether they feel part of a ‘community of staff and students’. Overall, just under a third of students disagreed with this statement, making it one of the poorest performing metrics in the new NSS questionnaire. Scores also varied significantly at an institutional level, from 33% to 100%.

We know that buildings and space have the power to connect people and build communities. Universities are reimagining the campus spaces of the 21st century to encourage creativity, innovation and interaction. They recognise the power of buildings and space to influence behaviour and thinking.

There are many dimensions to community, but the role and influence of space and buildings is underestimated and infrequently explored. We intend to change that!


Designed to get beneath the NSS statistics, a qualitative methodology will be used that combines:

Student focus groups

Bringing together groups of students, online, to discuss their shared experience of space and community

Student photo journals

Inviting students to submit photos and comments about places and spaces on campus that represent ‘community’ to them via an online platform

Ethnographic observation

On-site researcher observation to develop case studies of spaces identified as good practice examples.

Our University Futures projects are collaborative. Participating institutions will come together in a workshop at the start of the study to help shape the research objectives; comment on drafts of the qualitative guides; and most importantly, come together to discuss the findings, their implications and ideas for action.

Timings for How space and buildings impact community project

Outputs from How space and buildings impact community project

In addition to the opportunities for networking and sharing ideas at the two 'How space and buildings impact community' workshop sessions, participating institutions will receive:

  • A synthesis of the existing relevant literature
  • A full written report of our analysis of the primary research data, including:
    • Strategic recommendations based on the shared lessons learned from across participating institutions
    • Specific recommendations based on any local findings (which would not be shared with other institutions)
  • A PowerPoint summary of the findings to help you disseminate them at your institution
  • Review after implementation in the form of a follow up day conference 12 months later at which each institution presents and shares learnings.


We are asking each institution to contribute £14,500 to the study, and are seeking 5 to 8 universities to take part in the project.

Why a collaborative project?

Many of our university clients are facing similar challenges, inviting common solutions. We have developed our ‘Futures’ research series in recognition of this reality, bringing clients together to work on shared issues. We hope this will lead to practical action and innovation that contributes to improving students’ experience and learning.

The team involved in this project:

Professor Judith Burnett is a sociologist of generations and social change, and has worked in higher education for 25 years, holding senior positions at PVC level. She has a particular focus on student experience and building academic strength and workforce development. She has been Trustee and Chair of the British Sociological Association.

Dr Elizabeth Carley has a background is in academic research, with an MSc and a PhD in social research, statistics and social policy. At Alterline Beth ensures the research intelligence we gather is focused and articulated into clear and concrete reporting, strategies and actions.

Ben Hickman is a Research Director at Alterline and works with higher education clients to improve student experience. Ben co-founded Alterline in 2011, and since then has been involved in a multitude of quantitative and qualitative research projects to deliver insight into students’ lives and experiences.


For more information on being part of the How space and buildings impact community collaboration or to discuss ideas over a coffee, please contact Ben Hickman, Research Director, Alterline