The university campus and a sense of belonging: what do students think?

Hilda Mary Mulrooney, Alison Faith Kelly


The physical configuration of the university campus impacts upon student learning and experience, and can be used to signal institutional priorities. The extent to which campus, particularly in post 92 institutions, is designed as opposed to evolving as older buildings are repurposed or replaced is variable. Student experiences and perceptions of the campus physical space are also unclear. This study aimed to explore student perceptions using qualitative methods. Data were collected during 8 focus groups from 37 participants. The majority were young and female, with considerable ethnic diversity. Six major themes were identified, many of which did not directly relate to the physical space itself. Rather the impact upon students’ emotional experience and engagement with the institution was emphasised. ‘Belonging’ was the most common theme; indicating that the nature of the physical space on campus is not neutral, but can affect the extent to which students can form attachments with each other and academic staff. ‘Nature’ was the second most commonly mentioned theme. Green space has therapeutic potential in stress management, important given mental health concerns in young people including students. The ideal campus as described by participants would include green non-smoking spaces with an emphasis on health promotion. Opportunities to include nature on campus should be taken, and future proposals to design the campus should canvas student views.


Belonging; Physical space; Nature; Emotions

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