Higher Education - Making Every Building Count

Andrew Constable
The UK’s higher education sector is undergoing a period of significant change, driven by political, cultural, economic and technological issues. The trends affect all aspects of university provision, the environment in which universities operate, what they will be required to deliver in future, and how they will be structured and funded.

2012 saw the introduction of two key changes to student numbers. The Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) has scrapped the cap on the number of high performing students – those with AAB grades or equivalent – that an institution can enrol. If a university has the facilities, it can take as many of these students as it can attract.

Secondly, to limit the number of universities charging the full £9,000 fees, the government has withdrawn around nine per cent of student places from every institution, to form a ‘pot’ of around 20,000 places. Institutions that charge under £7,500 pounds can compete for these places.

Institutions are searching for new sources of revenue in this changing landscape. Tighter immigration policies threaten to reduce numbers of overseas students and there is continued competition from universities in other countries. The UK sector has a growing involvement in offshore education, with models ranging from overseas branch campuses and institutional partnerships to validation and franchising.

Fostering partnerships with the private sector has grown in importance for many institutions, bringing together academia and industry to develop a third stream revenue.

Fostering partnerships with the private sector has grown in importance for many institutions, bringing together academia and industry to develop a third stream revenue. This has become the norm for some providers, but is new territory for others. Alumnae revenue has also become more significant. Donating to universities and colleges in the UK is more widespread than ever before, according to a report published by HEFCE.

The boundaries between higher and further education are increasingly blurred and this has implications for funding and for the built environment. Collaboration between institutions may mean that facilities must handle larger numbers or be adapted for new purposes. Faculty decisions must focus on course viability in this new landscape, meaning that every course must earn its keep.

With government funding diminishing, to be replaced by a complex picture of alternative revenue streams, estates strategies are focused on tough challenges. The environment needs to be suitable for students, staff and, increasingly, local communities and conference hirers.

Students paying their own way has led to a culture of higher expectation, with an emphasis on quality of accommodation, teaching facilities and social space. The most ambitious are seeking world class facilities. Many institutions seek to make their space more aligned to a professional/commercial environment, reflecting the graduate destination of their students.

Capital programmes need to take account of flexibility, cost efficiency and best use of space.

Capital programmes need to take account of flexibility, cost efficiency and best use of space. Estates departments need to do more with less, so efficient refurbishment and adaptation of existing buildings is important, with I.T. capability a top priority. Heritage issues bring additional design, safety and cost challenges for older institutions. Modern methods of construction can bring added value benefits, especially for student accommodation.

As with all government-procured projects, higher education estates will be required to implement Building Information Modelling (BIM) from 2016. Faithful+Gould is working with Birmingham City University, an early adopter of BIM culture and tools in its city centre campus development. The design team is achieving better collaboration and results, and the project is attracting considerable attention within BIM steering groups. The university plans to further maximise BIM benefits by using the model for its future facilities management.

Faithful+Gould has provided project management and cost management in the higher education sector for many years, helping institutions find the most cost efficient solutions to their estate planning. Challenges include navigating funding mechanisms, together with handling disposals and acquisitions, often with a much more commercial mindset than previously required. In this competitive and fast changing situation, we help clients to explore their needs and identify the best procurement option.

Much of our guidance is around future-proofing of facilities, determining the most flexible use of space.

Much of our guidance is around future-proofing of facilities, determining the most flexible use of space. We also help clients realise campus leisure and retail opportunity, harnessing our commercial experience. We find that clients are now more focused on whole life value, not just capital costs, and energy performance has become very important. An environmentally friendly campus is an increasingly significant differentiator and in recognition HEFCE’s Revolving Green Fund provides recoverable grants to help higher education institutions reduce emissions. Our team has evaluated applications to help the Council’s decision-making, using our sustainability expertise.

Our higher education portfolio comprises a wide range of new-build and refurbishment projects. We were commissioned on 20,000 units of student accommodation in the last five years and are currently engaged on 1100 units at Aston University. Having successfully delivered 536 beds for the University of West of Scotland over two sites, we have built on this track record in Scotland and are currently developing 788 beds at the University of Stirling with the same supply chain. We are also appointed to provide services for the University of Cambridge’s £1 billion North West Development and we have recently been selected for UCL’s new consultants framework.

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