We love interrogating our Experience Research and Thinking with those who run projects live and have plenty of insights to share. The AUDE conference this year, held at the University of Kent, was a brilliant opportunity to do just that!

We love interrogating our Experience Research and Thinking processes with those who run projects live and who have plenty of insights to share. The AUDE conference this year, held at the University of Kent, was a brilliant opportunity to do just that. A stellar programme of presentations, workshops and exhibitions was run over three days specific to university real estate and operations. FreeState were present with our friends at HASSELL and engaged together in conversations with delegates from across the UK and beyond about the challenges facing the education sector. Key to conversations was the importance of a programmatic approach to four key challenges:


Competition among universities for the world’s best talent – student, academic, alumni, or industry – is extraordinarily fierce, and however fantastic a university’s legacy, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the key differentiator is the quality of student experience on offer.

It’s an experience that today’s discerning student-client understands in the widest possible sense, the campus more modern festival than traditional seat of learning.

Such a campus doesn’t just happen.

Rather, it’s the result of a carefully thought through strategy, one led by experience, that begins with mapping the student journey – step-by-step, moment-by-moment – across the virtual and the physical, and is designed to attract through giving all a real sense of involvement and belonging.



Universities thrive on contact with the outside world, and particularly when that contact takes the form of industry partnerships, the best of which play a vital role in the academic, social and financial wellbeing of all concerned. Absolute key to creating opportunities for these partnerships is the sheer quality of the campus experience.

An integrated, fully activated and porous campus attracts industries as much as it does students. It invites partners into a positively humming market. It provides students with access to the world beyond. It attracts grants, showcases talent, improves employability, and encourages collaboration.

It’s a veritable hotbed of opportunity.



One of the key factors in determining the success of today’s university is the degree with which its campus is able to compete with technology-assisted remote-learning trends and with the many attractions of the town or city it calls home. The answer of course is simple: design a campus-based experience that goes beyond the academic.

Curate it as you might a festival, its 24/7 rolling programme of events informing, invigorating and even disrupting the curriculum, its highly activated spaces allowing for the cross-pollination of ideas and practices, its opportunities for networking spawning collaborations, like-minded groups and future companies. Make it so people come and people stay. Make it delicious.

Make it a sticky place.



The world is growing and changing faster than ever, the success with which a university attracts and retains students is increasingly reliant on its ability to stay relevant.

It isn’t planning by focus group, cool-hunting the hell out of the competition, or building a monument and hoping the people will come. It’s developing a strategy that begins with programming a campus on the basis of the experience of the student, and so creates an ideal programme of events, activities and spaces that by virtue of its very ‘live-ness’ is inherently relevant and remains so.

With the student experience as icon, we are quite literally programming for the most future-proofed of campuses.

While common themes emerged from both our exchanges and the AUDE presentations, clearly each university has its own specific challenges based on their target audiences and their campus goals. This in mind, next month we will be further digging into these challenges over roundtable meetings with many of the people we met at AUDE and will follow up with an education-specific webinar in June. Which brings us to you: if you’re interested in taking part, we’d love to have you join us. Please contact and for further information.