Cafes and Computers

This is a calmer version of a post to Medium yesterday. More about the Guardian later.

Comment Is Free style txt on why universities need more money ( unfair to undergraduates to charge them for staff training)

Includes this on current what's going on

Many universities have accepted that, in return for the higher fee, they need to up their game. Dusty storerooms are being converted into trendy cafes and shiny computer clusters, paint is being ordered by the tanker load, and chewing gum is being scraped off the underside of library desks.

My take is that this is more evidence of some academics, and/or print journalists , resent the move online and hope that everything will stay as it was except of course this will need more money.

Meanwhile in Exeter the independent student newspaper Exepose reports (18 Feb) that a 114 seat study space is planned for the second floor of Devonshire House at a cost of £300,000 . There will be some PCs, also wifi and power provision. Not a cafe though, so occasional trips to the ground floor.

What strikes me is how casual is the mention in a middle paragraph that "Blackwells, which is currently operating as a pop up service from the top floor of Devonshire House, will return to the Market Place at the end of April." Before the new Forum opened there was a sustained campaign in Exepose demanding that a bookshop be continued. This pressure seems to have vanished. The current "pop-up" has been there since the start of the current academic year.  Returning to the Market Place means a desk and a screen. I hear rumours that there may be another pop-up but I won't believe it till I read it in Exepose.

Although I welcome online developments I see no point in scrapping a bookshop that Blackwells believe to be viable. Flipped or blended, learning can still include printed books.

Also it seems to me that the decision not to have a bookshop in the Forum was a surface design sort of thing. The ambience is to compare with a mall or a departure lounge, more likely to have a shop for jewellery or smart phones. I don't think it was part of a considered view on what a flipped campus would be like.

The main story in the current Exepose is to ask if Exeter University is growing too fast. The editorial mentions 8.000 more students over ten year. Louis Dore reports that in October 2013 the University implemented 600 places in "approved" external accommodation. Exeter City Council has plans to cap multi-occupancy in certain districts.

What strikes me though is that the nature of the city centre is changing, especially close to Sidwell Street. Sites that used to be shops, factories or offices are now student accommodation. Will this continue indefinitely?

Two things seem possible. More online aspects to courses so that students are not in Exetet so often and/or  distributing the cafe / computer / study space so that travel to the campus is not needed. For example a film studies cafe in Sidwell Street would not need any new building, just some software to connect existing spaces.

Also this approach could result in a significant reduction in costs, making it possible to have more postgraduate courses, something that may interest the dean of arts and humanities at UCL.