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Campus infrastructure impacts the student experience
Campus Infrastructure: Its impact on the student experience.
There are several factors that influence a student’s experience during their undergraduate career. These can include their extracurricular activities such as clubs, their choice to take on undergraduate research opportunities, or wondering what awaits post-convocation. One of the subtle influences that can impact their experience is the physical state of campus, its infrastructure, and the spaces that students interact with on a day to day basis.
I believe that students shouldn’t need to spend their time thinking about the state of the spaces surrounding them. There are far more pressing concerns that should hold a student’s attention, but when space begins to impact their ability to learn and socialize, it needs to be addressed by the university and it’s the job of the Students’ Union to ensure that student needs are incorporated in the evolution of our campus.
Campus infrastructure is a broad category, but there are generally three key areas that impact students:
Learning spaces include anywhere that is used to study or learn. They can be libraries, student lounges, classrooms, lecture theatres, computer labs, laboratories, and even hallways! These spaces directly impact our ability to learn because while some students can study in a busy hallway, others need the quiet of libraries.
The University of Calgary has a mandate to be a comprehensive academic and research institution (CARI) which makes it a necessity to provide top quality teaching and opportunities for research. The quality of learning spaces has a direct impact on the quality of teaching and research, and we reiterate this to administration at every opportunity.
The University of Calgary is a commuter campus; approximately 90% of students live off campus, which presents a challenge in terms of student engagement. Not living on campus can put pressures on the time that you spend on campus and the social connections you form here.
I’ve been fortunate to live in residence during the first four years of my degree. The community that exists there was a tremendous support. As I started to get more involved outside of residence I noticed there was a lack of community on campus, and I have worked over the last few years to address this.
The most effective way to build community is to ensure that it has the space to take root and grow. The creation of student lounges and centres fosters the relationships that help students succeed. In many ways it is a perfect example of “build it and they will come.”
The more resources that can be directed towards student spaces, the more opportunities and incentives students have to spend their time on campus. In this, students have put their money where their mouth is; the Quality Money program (https://www.su.ucalgary.ca/about/more/advocacy) has directed millions of dollars towards the creation, expansion, and modernization of student spaces across campus. Furthermore, students have also invested well over $20 million in the creation of their own home on campus, Mac Hall.
The practice of delaying necessary upkeep of infrastructure is known as deferred maintenance. It is generally the result of budget constraints that force resources to other areas of campus rather than addressing the daily wear and tear that occurs in campus buildings.
Deferred maintenance can be used to strategically allocate resources for short periods of time, but it must always be addressed sooner or later. When deferred maintenance debt is allowed to balloon to the staggering levels currently seen at institutions across Alberta, including the University of Calgary, it costs everyone more in the end.
This practice of delaying necessary upkeep has a direct impact on students as it creates unsafe and undesirable spaces. Students need to be able to attend university knowing that the spaces they’re learning in are safe, modern and accessible.
What is the SU doing?
Campus infrastructure has become a pressing issue as students start to feel the impacts that it has on every aspect of their undergraduate experience. We are committed to taking a leadership role in advocating on campus infrastructure across the country.
The Students’ Legislative Council (the SU’s highest governing body) recently approved a campus infrastructure advocacy policy that will direct our efforts. To the university we advocate for more student input on renovations and improvements across campus and the prioritization of student spaces as the university begins to address its significant deferred maintenance debt. To the provincial and federal governments, we advocate for more funding to help the university make the necessary repairs to campus. We have also published a Campus Infrastructure Report to better inform decision makers about the impact campus infrastructure has on our student experience.
At the end of the day, we need a campus that provides us with the opportunities to learn and grown, and that begins with the space around us. We will continue to work to make sure that your experience on campus is the best it possibly can be, and that includes making sure the spaces you spend your time in are in the best shape possible.
Branden Cave is the 75th SU President and was 74th VP Operations and Finance. He received his BA in Economics in June 2017 and has used his experience to advocate to government for more resources to address campus infrastructure issues.