We can all agree that the new shopping complex complements the IE Tower Campus beautifully. With its colourful patios and numerous boutiques, it has brought life to our university grounds and provided students with a space where they may interact with one another or with their schoolwork without being limited to a study room or the cafeteria. However, one thing that struck me as I walked around IE University’s new “playground” was the lack of student workers, which made me wonder how student-centered the new shopping center actually is.
Many colleges across the world have students working in cafeterias, libraries, and administrative offices located throughout campus. On the contrary, IE has never been a big fan of student employees; no on-campus employment has ever been given, and no paid volunteer opportunities have ever existed. It’s hardly surprising that the new shopping mall has the same mindset, given that none of the staff members are students.
It is unfortunate really, that IE had the opportunity to build a space that was not just for students, but was also run and governed by the student body, and chose not to take it. Instead of attempting to empower students through professional prospects, the shopping mall has simply incited us to spend money on a regular basis. As a result, many have questioned if the new retail center’s mission is actually to benefit IE students or to operate as a money-making machine that views students as mere customers.
By refusing to include students in the employment that supports the retail mall, IE ignores a segment of the student body that may benefit financially from these opportunities. After all, despite perceptions about IE and tuition expenses, a large portion of students rely on financial assistance, scholarships, and/or a variety of other cost-cutting programs to attend. If the school were to negotiate with the shopping center’s retailers, student quotas might be instituted in their hiring procedures, benefiting not just students who rely on part-time work for income, but also those searching for positions near the university. More significantly, by encouraging students to manage the center’s services, IE University may establish itself as a student-centered and student-powered institution.
The absence of study zones and green areas, like the lack of student employment, demonstrates how, despite quality, the new student center fails to be student-centered. For one thing, while the music, large tables, and unique architecture of the shopping center provide aesthetic and entertainment value to the institution, they appear to target the average consumer rather than a university student. Although the shopping complex offers a wide range of businesses, amenities that cater to the requirements of students are lacking. Yes, you can get all types of cuisine, buy relaxing soap at Rituals, and look at new phones at the Apple certified location, but there are no bookstores, study cafés, computer rooms, printing services, arts and crafts suppliers, or financial services. Worse, students are not even offered student discounts at existing businesses, and no meal plan strategy has been implemented to encourage the relationship between the new center and IE attendees.
The new amenities are also unique in that they all cost money. Given that gym courses and many other events at IE University tend to charge fees during the second semester, it is unfortunate that even with the new center, we are still unable to enjoy a wider range of free activities outside of the classroom. An easy answer to these issues may be to invest in the development of green spaces surrounding the institution. By doing so, the school would not only encourage students who do not want to pay for services to stay on campus, but it would also add to the area’s tranquillity.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the new shopping center. It brings the campus to life, facilitates socialization, and improves the overall experience of university life. It is also in its first year of operation, therefore judging it harshly at this early stage would be inappropriate. It is also important to note that the new shopping mall is not directly under the control of IE; it is owned by billionaire Andrew Tan, the fourth richest person in the Philippines. Might I add that the official name of the campus does not even mention IE University, but is instead called the Caleido Tower, a direct reference to the new shopping mall that goes by the same name.
Nevertheless, while ownership is restricted, IE retains a strong influence in the area’s growth and might persuade stockholders to consider the benefits of listening to student requirements, such as including student discounts or embracing student workers. More importantly, in order for the university grounds to evolve in such a way that all players may cohabit in a sustainable way, a discussion regarding the role of students in bringing the center to life is required.
It is via this conversation that we can identify one of the most serious weaknesses of IE’s Madrid campus: a lack of student engagement in university projects. Yes, as students, we consume, but we rarely produce alongside the university management to shape the institution’s future. Indeed, there is a lack of collaboration between the student population and the university, to the point that the school resembles a business strategy rather than a student-oriented facility. However, the future of the shopping center may provide a chance to bridge the gap between students and the institution. Perhaps this will inspire us to collaborate and develop a final product that benefits both of us.
Featured image by: Idealista