Over recent weeks I have participated in a range of open forums across the University asking students, staff and alumni about how we can improve the student residential experience.
Like many of you I firmly believe that living on campus has distinct educational and social advantages for students. I was encouraged to hear so many people agree that a residential experience is an important part of the ANU. Having the chance to live on campus is a big part of the University’s appeal for interstate and international students.
At present, ANU offers around 5,000 students the opportunity to live on campus each year. We have a range of accommodation styles available ranging from traditional Residential Halls with a high degree of pastoral care (both catered and self-catered), single and shared apartment accommodation and fully self-contained apartments for more independent students. Many of you said maintaining a mix of accommodation that meets the diversity of student requirements is important although it is clear that the University needs to look for better accommodation options for postgraduate students with families.
While we may be close to getting the mix of accommodation options right, the University is facing a number of challenges in this area. Our accommodation is at capacity. This year we estimate that more than 1,500 students who wanted to stay on campus were unable to do so. Next year it’s likely to be more. Construction has already commenced on a new 500 bed residential hall, currently known as SA5, on the corner of Daley and Dickson Road. While this will help us meet some future demand, we still need more accommodation.
In October we surveyed around 4,800 residential students and our alumni community who had lived on campus while they studied at ANU. Around 1,000 students and 1,100 alumni responded. We asked a range of questions to help us understand what students wanted in their accommodation, their satisfaction with the present facilities and how they thought future residential expansion and refurbishment should occur at ANU. Overall, the findings of the survey were unsurprising. Some of the key points were:
- Cost of accommodation for students is critical and redeveloped or new accommodation must be kept as affordable as possible;
- Much of the accommodation on Daley Road needs refurbishment or replacement and many of the facilities need upgrading;
- Quality pastoral care is an important component of the residential hall experience and should be retained and supported;
- The ANU residential experience should be expanded to as many students as possible;
- We could consider having alumni or other passive investors contribute to the development of new residential halls and colleges;
- If outside parties help fund new buildings, it’s important that they do not influence how the Halls will be run;
- Should it be necessary to rebuild existing residences, elements of the old residence should be captured in the architecture and design of the new building to preserve history.
The big question is how the University would fund new student accommodation. ANU is one of the great universities of the world and needs to make sure it can match its academic reputation with world-class facilities and infrastructure to continue to attract and retain the world’s best staff and students. To achieve this purpose, ANU is committed to upgrading existing teaching, research and educational facilities, many of which are reaching the end of their functional life.
The University has just committed to an expenditure of $50 million for the construction of SA5. We estimate that a further investment of $200 million would be needed to build new and rebuild existing accommodation. If the University was to solely fund future expansion it would mean very gradual expansion of new accommodation and there would be little scope to replace or upgrade the ageing residences – meaning rising costs of maintenance to keep the existing facilities at an acceptable standard.
A second option and one that I proposed at each of the open forums, seemed to have general support. This option would be to look for external investors to partner with the University to build new and replace or upgrade existing accommodation. Based on the SA5 model, this could help the University replace ageing buildings, while keeping tariffs low, at no added costs to the University. This would enable more students to access the traditional halls of residences model, with quality pastoral care, that is so valued by our students.
We think that this investment model may be attractive to alumni and passive investors (such as superannuation funds). Should there be interest in such activities, the University would insist on continuing to control the day to day operation of new and existing residences.
If it is possible to finance such a refurbishment and expansion, it will place the University in a unique position in Australia. No other university would be able to provide such a unique residential and educational experience for its students.