The UK’s universities are facing many challenges. Brexit and the proposed review of tuition fees, combined with an increase in new technologies and rising student demands, are creating conflicting pressures as institutions seek to improve efficiency, while also providing high spec facilities. However, there are a number of ways universities can address these issues to deliver better outcomes for all stakeholders.
Estates rationalisation enables universities to improve efficiency and building quality by achieving more with fewer assets - but this is no easy task. Most campuses have many building types, spread across multiple locations and lack the information they need to be able to compare the environmental, operational and financial performance of each asset. This makes it hard to determine, which assets should be divested to gain the best returns. At BAM we are exploring how we can collect multiple types of data from across an entire campus and present this via dashboards, to enable universities to make better decisions and easily monitor the performance of their entire campus. We also have a property development team, who can assist universities to rationalise their estates, by helping them to understand which assets to divest or refurbish and when a new build would make the most sense.
Sustainability, in particular energy and carbon reduction, is a big challenge for universities. In 2010, HEFCE, Universities UK and Guild HE set a carbon reduction target of 43% by 2020. However, the latest studies show that if emissions continue to fall at their current rate, only a 23% reduction will be achieved. One of the main factors behind this shortfall is an increase in student numbers, which has resulted in rising energy use and carbon emissions. However, there are measures universities can take to reduce this trend. The use of sensors, which turn off lights and HVAC when rooms are not in use and the adoption of sustainable power sources such as solar, can help to reduce energy and carbon. BAM installed sensors in the theatres at Wharfedale Hospital in Leeds, cutting electricity use by 28% and saving 6 tonnes of carbon. While at Cranfield University we are cutting energy usage by 5% year on year through a variety of energy reduction measures. We also offer innovative power purchase agreements where universities can purchase solar panels with no upfront costs; spreading the expense of installing, maintaining and running products across future operating costs and capitalising on the government’s feed-in tariffs.
With constant changes in technology and student demands for high spec buildings, it is vital that universities create buildings that are future proofed. For existing buildings, we are able to create retrofitted BIM models, which demonstrate how assets can be refurbished to achieve the optimum outcomes, within budget. Digital technologies such as BIM and virtual reality also enable estates teams, academics and end users to experience buildings before they are built or refurbished, ensuring that spaces are fit for purpose. In addition, as BAM’s services span the entire life cycle of an asset, we are able to involve our FM and sustainability specialists at the outset of a project. They provide vital insights into the lifetime operational and environmental impacts of each proposed solution and allow estates teams to choose the best solutions for them based on the predicted future costs, maintenance requirements and environmental performance. At the CONNECT110NS development in Glasgow, we were even able to use this data to predict occupiers’ energy bills and service charges.
Although, Brexit and the proposed student fee review could mean a reduction in income for universities across the UK, this should not be a barrier to estates development. Venture Capitalists and Pension funds are increasingly interested in investing in high quality university assets and those which are able to demonstrate predicted high performance levels (as discussed above) will prove very attractive. BAM PPP also offers a number of funding solutions to improve existing facilities and construct new buildings, which are already being implemented on student accommodation schemes in the UK.
Despite the challenges facing the UK’s universities, I believe there are number of opportunities for Estates Directors to improve efficiency, while increasing building quality. As a business, BAM is able to support universities to realise these goals, via our integrated lifecycle approach and our adoption of the latest digital technologies and financing models. Most importantly, we see ourselves as a long- term partner, committed to helping our clients to deliver the best outcomes across their campuses today and into the future.