Going to university is a major landmark in a young person's life, moving away from the relative normality and safety of their home and heading into the big, wide world.
For many, it is the first time away from their parents and represents a step onto the path into full-time employment, so a first class degree from a respected higher education institute is imperative for a number of students. With that in mind, many universities across the country have been looking to make major changes to their facilities that will house the new intake of undergraduates. As the price of tuition fees rises, there is an increased focus on universities and what they are doing to justify charging up to £9,000 a year to study there.
The government's decision to remove the cap on fees from £3,000 to nearly three times as much has increased scrutiny on higher education institutes from students, parents and colleges. This has meant that universities have had to up their game and provide the sort of facilities that represents the major outlay that their students are making. A number of centres have now started taking advantage of increased revenue, and have begun looking into improving campuses, building new and more modern accommodation blocks and renovate existing faculty structures.
Northumbria University has recently switched its attention to sport by building a new multi-purpose facility which encompasses the centre's long-standing commitment to the activity by providing students with a £30 million state-of-the-art complex. Opening in 2010, it features a plethora of facilities, such as a 25-metre swimming pool, fitness centre and golf simulator among others and has also hosted home basketball matches for the nearby Newcastle Eagles, who normally play their games at the city's Metro Radio Arena.
While Northumbria is a shining example of how new facilities can benefit the populous of a city centre university, the importance of improving buildings and services for students is being highlighted in Sheffield more than ever. Both the city's universities have announced planning application for new buildings as they attempt to improve their respective facilities as well promoting not just the university but the city as a whole, as one that students would feel welcome in should they choose to study in south Yorkshire.
Officials at both Sheffield University and Sheffield Hallam University have announced plans that aim to improve both institutes' campuses for their students and, like Northumbria did in the spring of 2011, believe that the development will help to create a better environment for new undergraduates as well as current students.
Sheffield's project involves improving the famous University House landmark at its campus and will see it incorporated into the student's union making for a larger facility. It comes after the institute's award winning union was given an extensive makeover in 2011 and the latest development is set to provide students and staff with a singularly building with the capability to provide them with the best possible services all situated under one roof.
Officials chose Balfour Beatty to undertake the £16.4 million job which is due to begin in July 2012 with an expected delivery time of September 2013 ready for the new academic year. Dr Philip Harvey, registrar and secretary, has already revealed his excitement at the project that he believes will significantly benefit current and future students studying in Sheffield.
Dr Harvey said: "The project will see a new and improved University House come together with the Students' Union in a way that will not only enhance the student experience but also the working lives of the wider University community for many years to come."
While Sheffield embarks on a major revamp of its student union, neighbour Sheffield Hallam also unveiled bold plans to reinvigorate its Collegiate Campus with a £25 million regeneration programme set to get underway in the near future. The current facility which houses the Development and Society, and Health and Wellbeing subjects is now set to be transformed into an "impressive new facility" that will provide a much improved service for students and staff alike.
It is part of Sheffield Hallam's plan of breaking into the top 50 universities by the year 2050. Officials that it will include a new café, glazed atrium, lecture theatre, study areas and socials spaces with work set to be complete by 2014.
Mark Swales, director of estates and facilities at Sheffield Hallam, said: "It is important that we invest in the future of Sheffield Hallam University and its staff and students, and that we stand by our commitment to remaining a two campus university.
We are working closely with the planners to ensure the new development at Collegiate Campus will be innovative, allowing students, staff and the local community to better enjoy the environment and heritage of the picturesque campus."
As the price of moving on to higher education rises, many potential students will be heartened by the fact that universities such as both Sheffield institutes are making concerted effort to ensure that their facilities are representing value for money to the prospective undergraduates that are having to pay the extra funds that they were not two years ago.
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