How Unite Students is preparing for September

15 Jul 2021
By Jennifer Steadman, Higher Education Communications Executive at Unite Students
We’ve shared our research into incoming students, and behind the scenes at Unite Students we’re using these insights to shape our plans for 2021/22. One thing we’re in no doubt about is the importance of a great welcome to ensure students get off on the right foot in their Home for Success.

We recently hosted a virtual, live check-in event across the business to ensure our 2,000 employees from Aberdeen to Southampton were up to speed with our plans for the return for campus. We’ll be outlining these plans in greater detail soon; for now, here are some of our key priorities.

Removing uncertainty

Unsurprisingly - given the uncertainty of the past 18 months and the hindrances that Covid has caused for social, personal and academic development – our applicant survey found that this cohort of students feels less ready than those in 2017, despite the survey being closer to the start of their first term.

So it’s vital to prepare students ahead of their arrival and letting them know what to expect. That means clear, tailored pre-arrival communications for those coming to live with us in September: welcome emails, a new and dedicated part of our student website for check-in, and updated property welcome guides on our website. It will also include an updated version of our Home Charter for 2021 – which outlines not only what behaviour and values we expect from students, but what they can expect from us in turn – and up-to-date ‘Living with uS’ guides, which set out what it’s like to live with Unite Students.

Our round table guests from universities and Students Unions shared with us that parents had been in contact more than ever; evidence not only of parents’ growing role in their children’s tertiary education choices, but of their anxieties on their children’s behalf – so parents and guardians will be kept in the loop as well. We have a guide for parents, guardians and guarantors which we’ll be sending out in August, along with a guide to key roles at Unite Students, our welcome guides, and Covid safety information.

Building community 

This uncertainty extends to who they might be living with – and maybe that’s why we found that 73% of applicants wanted to be able to contact their flatmates on arrival – up from 55% in 2017. This functionality, through the uChat section of our MyUnite app, has been a part of our offer for several years, but in 2020 we expanded it so that students in studio flats could meet others in their building, and those in shared flats could meet their neighbours from the same floor. This year, we’re taking it further, letting students in shared flats meet those on other floors.

But getting to know people in advance of arrival not only reduces some of the uncertainties that lie in wait on arrival – it also allows students to start building their community. Our round table shared their concerns about a ‘social gap’ among those studying during the pandemic, while this appeared to be borne out in our survey; the #1 thing that incoming students were excited for was the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. 

Maintaining Covid safety

Restrictions are being lifted for now, but with the anxieties of the past years, we’ll still be making sure students both feel safe and are safe. With government guidance still being formulated for universities and PBSA providers, we are ready to mobilise against a number of different scenarios, and to remain flexible as the situation evolves; however, following last year’s digital check-in trial, we’ll be doing it again - giving students and our employees peace of mind by reducing the number of people at reception and offering a smoother check-in process all round.

Students check-in on the MyUnite app, book a check-in slot, and upload ID up to 24 hours ahead of arrival. If for whatever reason they’re unable to do this, our employees can do this for them, and will follow up with anyone who doesn’t book a slot.

Tailoring a great experience for everyone

At our round table, one participant told us: “This generation wants to feel ‘seen’. Anything that will personalise the welcome, such as using their name, will be appreciated. It will make them feel part of community.”

A truly personalised welcome for more than 70,000 students may sound like a tall order, but this attention to detail sets each student up for a Home for Success. Our welcome emails will be tailored based on the tenancy start date, property and year of study, while each property and city’s service will be tailored to the local area and student population based on our insight. Having sight of out-of-hours arrivals through our digital check-in capability means that students arriving early in the morning will be offered the same service and personalised welcome as those turning up during the day.

The past 18 months has been shrouded in uncertainty, obstacles and fear. But whatever September brings, we’re confident that our planning, insight and expertise will mean a fantastic start to the year for every student that lives with us.

Our ‘Return to Campus’ partner pack will be available for download soon. For more insights on the incoming student cohort, listen to the first instalment of our Accommodation Matters podcast:

f
Enjoyed this article? Give it a like
Jen Steadman (she/her) is a Higher Education Communications Executive at Unite Students. Prior to this, she was the inaugural Editor of GSL News, covering the student experience for the higher education sector.