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There’s no denying that, in recent years, the use of technology in all aspects of education has increased massively as schools, colleges and universities embrace the idea of collaborative learning and realise the potential that innovations such as virtual reality and live streaming can have on the educational outcomes of students.
One area in which we’ve seen particular improvements is in production and recording facilities at higher education establishments. With tuition fees now sitting at around £9,000 a year in the UK, higher education is big business and this, inevitably, brings with it a sense of competition. Universities that rely on ageing kit and that don’t have the infrastructure to cope with the demands of today’s creative courses simply won’t be able to stand out when it comes to attracting and retaining students, something that has led many establishments to invest in professional standard studios that mirror those that students will go on to work in once they finish their studies. As more universities have made this investment, it is now the norm to see SSL and DiGiCo desks, monitors from PMC and Genelec, cabling infrastructures from Van Damme and a wide range of outboard equipment in teaching spaces as the minimum standard has risen across the board.
The benefits of making this type of investment are clear. Not only will universities attract more students, if courses are engaging and teaching skills relevant to the real world, retention will also be higher. Looking further into the future and job prospects for students will be improved if they can demonstrate they have experience using industry standard kit in a professional-level setting. One recent project that demonstrates this is ACM in Guildford, which recently opened a new flagship studio featuring a 24-channel SSL Duality console, Dynaudio monitoring, Genelec midfields and Van Damme 48-pair Blue and Black series. This focus on mirroring professional standards along with maintaining strong links with the industry ensures ACM has an enviable rate of students going on to enjoy long-lasting careers in the creative industries.
This focus on life after graduation is a key trend across the board at many universities, as is the need for flexible spaces that serve a variety of purposes. As well as being learning spaces for students, many studios are also available for hire, complete with technical support, they are used to hold performances and, as many establishments look to build closer ties with the local community, host open days, taster sessions and evening classes to help raise the profile of the university’s offering and bring in income year round. In order to cope with such a packed schedule it is imperative that equipment can handle the rigours of use day in, day out and that it is reliable enough to operate throughout the year, not just in term time. A solid infrastructure on which to build a studio is crucial to this.
Of course, most people won’t join these courses and events ready to work in a full-scale professional studio, and it was this need for progression that Southampton Solent addressed during its recent upgrade programme. In Summer 2016, Studio 1 invested in a large-format Avid S6 M40 control surface and three patchbays. Studio 9 was then set up as a smaller version of Studio 1 to be used by first year students. In 2017 patching was added to this space allowing students to practice these skills in a smaller facility at an earlier stage of their learning. Consistency across all nine studios in terms of the furniture and software suite also adds to the flexibility and means students can take a session from any room and it’ll be exactly the same in each space.
Having the right equipment is important in any area of teaching and learning but in creative courses such as music technology, audio engineering, film and TV production, and post production it is essential to attract and retain students, prepare them for the real world and make the transition from education to career more smoothly. Having a professional setup is no longer the exception, it is now the norm and students expect to develop their skills on high-end industry standard kit in a professional studio setting. With the higher education sector being so competitive, universities have little choice but to meet these needs and find ways to differentiate themselves in this demanding sector.