Key takeaways from ‘Higher education & the high street’

Photo by Suzanne Zhang

What do high streets and higher education institutions have in common? In this forum, Hassell and London Higher led a lively discussion to uncover the potential of institution-led high street regeneration.

Universities and higher education colleges often have facilities on high streets and in town centres, or a desire to be physically present in these places. Historically, the motivation has been to ensure accessibility and visibility for the institution. Yet today we are seeing a shift towards a much more holistic approach to place management, seeking to integrate student life, learning, and the civic mission with the public experience.

On Friday 16 September 2022, London Higher and Hassell jointly hosted an in-person forum to explore the ways in which high streets and higher education institutions can intersect and interact. Joined by a diverse group of stakeholders from across the higher education and retail sectors, the panel explored four core questions:

  1. What factors are key to the success of a university high street regeneration project?
  2. How can universities on the high street contribute to society, and conversely what could high street, councils, and boroughs be doing to help universities?
  3. How can the high street support lifelong learning and skills pathways?
  4. How can high streets and higher education institutions work together to offer sustainable models for the future?

The forum was led by Dr Diana Beech (Chief Executive, London Higher) with Darren de Souza (Policy and Projects Officer, London Higher), Angus Bruce (Landscape Architecture, Hassell), and Julian Gitsham (Education Sector, Hassell). 

“Creating a great high street requires crossing boundaries and bringing thinkers together.”

Julian Gitsham, Hassell

Key takeaways

After a lively discussion, six key takeaways emerged:

  1. Partnerships are key. All participants agreed that forging strong partnerships is key to any institution-led high street regeneration project. Good relationships need to be established between the institution and retail or local government partners, with shared goals and clear lines of communication set out from the start. An understanding of each party’s attitude to risk is also important in setting out realistic timelines and goals.
  2. Multi-use space is important. Utilizing ‘in-between’ spaces on existing campuses and in the high street enables previously overlooked space to be used for learning, teaching and socializing. Keeping space [property] as flexible as possible is key, ensuring that future needs can be accommodated. This also welcomes local enterprise and industry to blend with university space.
  3. Build a visible community. A high street presence means establishing a more fluid relationship between educational institutions and the local community. Visibility is essential in building this relationship, as institutions need to make it clear to the public that they are welcome participants in these new spaces. Location, signposting, and an online presence should all be considered.
  4. Be mindful of scale. Universities often operate at a considerable scale, requiring larger spaces than are traditionally available on high streets. Student and staff expectations of campus life are changing however, and there is an increasing appetite for open, informal spaces that can exist as pockets on the fringes of the main university campus.
  5. Consider the academic calendar. Higher education institutions operate on a different timeline to traditional retail spaces. These differences need to be considered when planning the programming of future ventures as they could lead to inefficient use of space and a feeling of disconnect between institutions and their local communities.
  6. Understand students’ values. Environmental and social sustainability are core values for many of today’s students and will likely become standard demands in the future. From creating thermally efficient buildings to a more proactive use of landscaping, educational institutions have a responsibility to respect, and act on, student expectations with regards to sustainability goals.

“Success is about building partnerships and getting everyone on board. Sometimes it is actually easier to get people from the outside on board than people from the inside.”

Claire Selby, Kingston University Studio KT1

Photos by Suzanne Zhang

Examples of University-led high street projects:

Further information

Do you have a great case study to share? Please get in touch with the Property X-Change project team via LinkedIn or Twitter.

If you would like to host a forum to discuss a challenge or opportunity related to the activation of high street property, please submit your idea here.


  • Dr Diana Beech, London Higher
  • Darren de Souza, London Higher
  • Julian Gitsham, Hassell
  • Angus Bruce, Hassell


  • James Scroggs, New Working Class
  • Adam Scott, Freestate
  • Yulia Pak, WSP
  • Sharon Ellis, University of London
  • Claire Selby, Kingston University
  • Emily Temperton, Gort Scott
  • Ben Marston, Jestico + Whiles
  • Chris Hinge, University of Westminster
  • Rumi Bose, Greater London Authority

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