Creating Positive Student Experiences through an Innovative Housing Program at University of Greenwich — The Interview

Since 1996, Sodexo has provided housing services to more than 1,000 students living on two campuses at University of Greenwich on the outskirts of London. The program has been so successful that it became the model for our global Student Living offer, shaping the way we look at the student journey around the world. 

Two members of the management team at University of Greenwich recently shared their insights on how to create positive student experiences and explained how Student Living has improved quality of life on campus for more than 20 years.

Loraine Hudson joined the University of Greenwich team 19 years ago as a housekeeping assistant. Since then, she has held a variety of positions on campus, eventually working her way up to her current role as Catering Hospitality Services Manager. She oversees both the dining and housing programs, handling day-to-day operations and playing an important role in the quality of students’ experiences on campus.

Student Living at University of Greenwich blends traditional campus housing elements, such as onsite resident advisors and multi-bedroom apartments with shared living spaces, with services typically offered by hotels, such as regular cleaning inside the apartments and concierge-style services at the front desk area of the building.

Each apartment, which typically features six individual bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms and communal kitchen and living areas, is cleaned weekly by members of the onsite staff. One way Loraine and her team ensure students have a positive experience is by fostering a personal rapport between the students and the staff. For example, a photo of the cleaning person assigned to a particular apartment is left in the kitchen, enabling students to directly address their attendant.

“The students know who is coming into their flat to do their cleaning, and they can recognize that person and speak to that person if they have any issues,” Loraine says. “They know who they’re talking to and who to speak with if they have a problem.”

In addition to supporting students with their day-to-day needs, the student living team strives to help students – and their parents – ease the transition to college life. Students are often on their own for the first time, and navigating such unfamiliar territory can be stressful.

“They need someone there to guide them,” says Loraine. “They’re new to leaving home, their parents have always taken care of them, and they’ve branched out into this big world. They need to know a friendly face.” That is why she and her team encourage a high level of direct interaction with students, from their first campus visit to move-in day and throughout the academic year. Staff members are available at the help desk to talk with students and parents, address their concerns, and direct them to appropriate campus resources as needed.

“The more you can interact with the students, the more comfortable they feel, and if they have any problems they know where to go,” Loraine says. “I think it’s a big help. When they move in, they often come straight to the help desk with questions. I speak to parents and students, and it puts them at ease. It’s so nice that parents can feel relaxed that their child is in someone else’s care. I think that one-on-one attention with students is important.”

Magdy Wahed, general manager of facilities for University of Greenwich, has worked on campus for 19 years. He works closely with Loraine, overseeing a variety of facilities management services for the housing program, including custodial, landscaping, and building maintenance and repair. Throughout his long career in facilities management, Magdy has noticed significant changes in the expectations of students and parents.

“Students expect much more now in terms of communication and technology,” he says. “They also expect much faster responses to their issues.” The demographics of campus are also shifting.

“We used to have mainly UK students, and now we have overseas students, primarily coming from China,” he explains. “Their needs and expectations are different, so we have to adapt our services.” Students have also become more adventurous and interested in exploring the areas surrounding campus, something the onsite team assists with through the help desk.

“Students have changed dramatically,” agrees Loraine. “When I first started, students would come to college to party all the time, and over the years it has completely changed. Now it’s the total opposite. Students now are more focused on studying.” Student accommodations have changed as well.

“Accommodations have got to be suited around students now,” Loraine says. “Before, we were maintaining buildings, but not as a student living process. Now, we look out for the students more than anything else. We’ve upgraded the main dorm building, adding an IT lab and a gym.”

In addition to offering an upgraded living experience, one of the primary concerns that the Sodexo team helps to address is students’ safety and security.

“Not only with students but also with parents, safety and security is a very high priority,” explains Magdy. “We have a team that makes sure we can apprise students on safety and security procedures and answer questions they might have. They want to be independent, of course, but safety is a main priority.” Addressing safety concerns is just one of many ways the onsite team helps create positive experiences on campus.

“The most important part of creating positive student experiences is just to make students feel at home and make sure that if they have any queries, we respond as soon as we can,” Magdy says. “We are responsible for the welfare of the students. They are adults, but we have to make sure their stay with us is comfortable.”

Another key member of this dynamic team Simon Weaver, a 12-year veteran of Sodexo, is responsible for the FM activities including making sure that the response time of the maintenance requests is in line, safety and health, etc. The team believes that this comprehensive approach is what makes Student Living so unique: more than just a collection of services, it about the student journey and the needs of students all along the way.

“What we are providing here is a total solution,” says Magdy. “The students actually appreciate the support we give them. One of the main things is that we are available. We go the extra mile to ensure we provide comfortable accommodations for students.”

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