The generation of digital natives emerging post Covid19 is asking more of their learning environments; how will our designs respond to this and develop spaces that will adequately service them? This unanticipated generation will push the boundaries of FE as we know it and ask us to question what is really important when navigating learning.

We know this unprecedented pandemic is affecting all areas of our lives and our economy. Young people in particular have had their usual ways of learning turned upside down, and their experience of remote study during lockdown is having the effect of transforming them into true digital natives. Learning from home also means being able to choose their settings and even the time that they engage with their work.

The further education sector has been starved of funding over the past decade, but it will be interesting to see if this changes to reflect the stated desire of the Government to create a new age of skilled digital jobs. With increasing automation across every sector, there is the potential for digital roles at all levels, and FE colleges are ideally placed to deliver targeted training for these.

What impact will the unprecedented pandemic have on the future of design for further education?

New initiatives in the sector are focussing on a new way of navigating learning, where students can pick and choose modules to tailor make their studies. Pre-pandemic, the front of house was becoming increasingly important to act both as a shop window and to entice employers in to engage with students.

Now, it is even more important to have a truly accessible, inspirational space which draws in both students and employers. The key is to ensure that anyone excluded or disengaged from education would feel comfortable going into the building.

As we plan to design in a post-pandemic further education world, we already know this will look very different. Armies of students will not be turning up at 9 a.m. to fill lecture theatres: the emphasis will be on tailored learning and mentoring, meaning space will need to be rationalised and the value of that space maximised.

Colleges often have too much space currently, but that space might be poor quality. Over the last 15 years we have carried out a large number of space rationalisation projects within the FE sector. Generally we have always ended with less space than we started with, but that reduced space is fit for purpose, more flexible and of significantly higher quality. This trend is bound to be exacerbated by our new post-pandemic world.

When planning for future education, it is always important to review potential public uses for facilities such as lecture theatres and workshops: these can be useful community assets as well as generating much needed revenue.

Location is also vital to energise and engage potential students: city centre development can exploit significant passing footfall. Could education hubs be another way of helping revitalise our struggling high streets?

Conversely, could these hubs bring the education to where these disadvantaged young people live? A post-pandemic world could be the perfect catalyst for the development of sustainable community models where you live, work and learn in the local area. Facilities can become part of the neighbourhood, and commuting is avoided, a benefit in both cost and perceived risk.

The challenge is to attract and retain the interest of young people, to demystify the world of digital careers, and to provide non-intimidating, aspirational and accessible education facilities.