Living in formal student accommodation supports academic success

Staying in formally structured purpose-built student accommodation is about so much more than securing a roof over one’s head, regular meals and easy access to classes.

“Although these are important considerations, social and environmental factors play as much of a role in ensuring the student’s academic success,” says Craig McMurray, CEO of Respublica, a leading developer of student accommodation in South Africa.

Referring to extensive research conducted in establishing Respublica, McMurray points out that living on campus – or close to campus in a residence facility – is acknowledged to encourage students to interact more with faculty members and with their peers than those who live in solitary housing or at home with family.

“Overall, students who engage more frequently with other students and their lecturers are generally more satisfied with their experience of being at university. We’re confident that this level of satisfaction, along with the support that they enjoy from their peers, helps students to be successful,” he says.

Noting that academic and social support programmes can help students adjust to their newfound independence and responsibilities, McMurray adds that these need to be of high quality, carefully planned, and conducted on an ongoing basis throughout the year, rather than just in the madness of Orientation Week.

“Easing students into their new way of life with empathy helps them process the many changes that they are experiencing – whether it’s living away from home or studying independently and living closely with students from diverse cultures for the first time.

“Tertiary education really is a university of life as much as it is a place of learning, and residence programmes that focus on this help students to make a seamless adjustment to the many new experiences they are faced with,” says McMurray.

While the social aspects are important, learning communities are also vital to achieving academic success and these are considerably easier to facilitate and attend if students live near campus, within reach of peers who have similar coursework requirements.

“Research that Respublica has undertaken highlighted that students living in residences are most likely to make use of learning communities,” says McMurray. “When we set about designing Respublica’s facilities, we made sure to include a variety of public spaces so that students can study on their own, in small groups, or in larger collaborative gatherings – be it for academic purposes or facilitating Respublica’s residence life programmes.”

He adds that students in courses at high risk of drop-outs are nearly twice as likely to take advantage of tutoring or study groups, if those groups are within easy access of their home base.

“Active and collaborative learning, achieved through ongoing interaction with peers, challenges students to become more intensely involved in their education because they are compelled to apply their knowledge in different ways, whether it’s through presentation to peers, or through robust dialogue and debate,” he says.

“While parents may not like to think so, I’m sure successful students would agree that the most meaningful of these engagements happen outside of the classroom, and outside of what many ‘grown ups’ would consider to be regular hours.”

Close proximity to their peers and to their place of learning, combined with interested and caring support from respected members of the academic community clearly build persistence, commitment and loyalty among students. Considering that South African universities can accommodate less than 20% of students in on-campus residences, it is key that they have access to the right kinds of facilities that offer this level of engagement, if they are to succeed academically.