THE FOUR or more years spent at university constitute a unique and powerful time in any individual’s life. More than anything, the time spent at university is when we manifest and put in place personal and professional goals and possibilities for the future. It’s a time when one’s world becomes smaller — focusing in on a specific place and its tight-knit community — and infinitely larger, as the mind expands. These few years will, in a sense, follow you throughout life. And at the same time, to be a university student is to occupy a distinct and separate segment of society. Though fully functioning adults, students are sheltered to a degree from the competitive reality of making a living. The university campus provides the setting in which these unique circumstances are played out.
It is no wonder, then, that along with the growing number of universities in Saudi Arabia, more attention is being paid to increasing the functionality and attractiveness of the university campus. The right facilities may serve to attract students in an increasingly competitive educational ‘market’, to be sure — but they also do much more than that. As well as enhancing the university experience, well-designed campuses and student centers help create it.
Going to university is more than just attending lectures. By now we are all familiar with that sentiment, but what does it really mean? Specifically, what does that ‘more’ consist of? A glance at a modern university student center, like the one at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Qatar can help answer that question.
This state of the art facility is a place for students, visitors and faculty to mingle. They can, of course, eat at the cafeteria and study in dedicated areas, but students can also form clubs and have a place to plan and carry out both meetings and functions. They can attend social activities and information sessions on a variety of relevant topics. A good student center can even provide part time employment for students, as the food stands and retail outlets found there always require employees. This is one rare case in which having to work while studying can actually enhance a student’s presence and enjoyment of life on campus.
Student centers roughly comparable to the one at Hamad bin Khalifa University are fairly commonplace in western universities, which have, for a long time, been catering to the economic and social potential created by the concentrated presence of thousands of young people with time and money to spend. For Saudi students, however, student centers should be regarded as one step toward creating university communities that are uniquely suited to their aspirations and needs.
They offer the possibility of inviting guest speakers to the campus and having a safe place to gather and socialize outside of classes. The modern, student-centered campus attracts students to a holistic and multi-faceted learning community that will evolve and re-create itself with the presence of each new generation of students. Designing campuses with students’ unique needs and potential in mind is essential to the development of higher education in Saudi Arabia.
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