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Is the UEA campus becoming unrecognisable?

The academic year is coming to an end, and it will soon be time to leave UEA. For some of us, the upcoming departure is only for the summer, but for others, it is time to say goodbye for good. Final-year students have a short celebratory period to enjoy, while waiting in anticipation for their graduation ceremony. They have been here for three or more years now, and feel like they know the campus inside and out, but how long will UEA remain the way they know it?

When speaking to students about what they would miss most, many commented on the friendly atmosphere and feeling of community. However, plans in line with UEA 2030 vision will see the expansion of the campus and demolition of some of the older buildings. The developments made to UEA over the years are already evident, with recent renovations to the LCR and the Hive, alongside the addition of new residences Hickling and Barton for 2016-17 admissions.

UEA’s student body is also growing alongside the campus, with over 15,000 students currently enrolled. Final-year psychology student Becky worries that the rapid expansion risks losing the feeling of community she loves at UEA: “All my tutors know my name. That kind of personal community feeling might disappear if we expand too much.” However, third-year accounting and finance student Alex says he is “glad to see the further development of UEA because it raises the profile of the university and will be beneficial for past, current, and future students”.

The modernisation of campus has created new study spaces and new lecture theatres, such as Julian Study Centre, and has allowed more students to enroll and more modules to run. These are benefits the current graduating class have experienced, but how is the experience of this year’s graduates different to those who graduated 40 years ago?

The UEA campus was first built in the 1960s and was designed within a modernist framework so that students could reach everywhere on site within ten minutes. With the addition of new buildings and facilities, this is no longer true and the older buildings seem outdated next to the modern updates. As we all know, what first stands out to visitors is the abundance of concrete, which divides opinions of both students and guests. Although the new buildings may try to combat this, it is at risk of losing one of campus’s defining features. Biology student Hannah, who “hated all the concrete” when she first arrived, has, like most of us, come to love it. Conversely, the modernisation is a welcomeed by literature student Daisy, who is unhappy with this year’s graduate’s ceremony venue. She stated that it is “lousy compared to the cathedral”. But with plans to demolish Congregation Hall and build again from the ground up, this year’s students may be the last ever to graduate from one of campus’s oldest buildings.

Do the bricks and mortar of UEA really matter? The university has been in action for over 50 years, and began on a small site where the University Village now sits. Then, with the work of two forward-thinking Brutalist architects, Denys Lasdun and Bernard Feilden, the campus expanded and has continued to do so ever since. Many of the original structures are grade II listed, and the Ziggurats famously appeared on the album cover of Computers and Blues by The Streets in 2011. The Ziggurats are not the only part of campus to receive media attention – the more recent Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts appeared in the closing scenes of Marvel’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron in 2015. It is safe to say that UEA is famous for its architecture, but the values of students are also expanded and reflected within them. UEA students have done brilliant things – fundraising, campaigning, debating and creating, and the Student Transformation Awards last night showcased many of the advancements made alongside studying. The upcoming graduates have lived and learned on UEA’s campus, and have played instrumental roles in the high table rankings and acclaim of the university both nationally and internationally.

However, it seems that the soon-to-be alumni will barely be able to recognise the university if they return in the coming years. Even students who are avoiding entering the increasingly competitive job market by taking on a masters or a PhD will notice the changes on campus when they return in September with the opening of new residences and a hoard of new students ready to begin their degrees.The rapid development and change surrounding us has altered the UEA student experience, and while many students leave to begin their lives as graduates, many more will arrive to continue their legacy. However, this legacy is one of modernity and progression, which have been core values since UEA’s founding. As the campus changes around us, the UEA mindset remains the same, and hopefully will continue into the future, regardless of the buildings it is housed in.


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