In his 2017 preview of Higher Education Construction, Trevor Humphreys reports that the sector continues to face considerable uncertainty and directors of estates are considering what the key factors are as they plan for the year ahead.
Mr Humphreys who is Chair of the Association of University Directors of Estates, and Director of Estates & Facilities at the University of Surrey, states that higher education estate directors aim to improve the student experience and provide efficient and effective campuses. He says Brexit will of course affect several aspects of the higher education sector, including the student demographic, workforces and construction costs, as well as research income.
According to the European University Association, the UK is currently the biggest destination for European students heading to study abroad. Recent figures show that international revenues amounted to nearly £5.7bn a year from student fees, representing more than 20 per cent of all university income.
However, across the sector we are seeing a downward trend in applications from EU students to study in the UK. This is worrying, as the continued expansion of UK higher education and investment in the estate is somewhat dependent on fee income generated from these students. It would appear that Brexit is already having an impact.
Additionally, significant reduction in government funding for higher education and the move to alternative sources of income has taken place over several years. Universities are driving the efficiency agenda as a consequence.
“The continued expansion of UK higher education and investment in the estate is somewhat dependent on fee income generated from [EU] students”
In February 2015, Universities UK published its Diamond report on efficiency, effectiveness and value for money. Almost two years on, universities are delivering on many of the report’s aims and there are great examples of institutions working more closely with business and communities to drive economic growth and deliver alternative income streams.
New Revenue Streams
This needs to continue; increasing the commercial income from the estate has been and is set to remain a crucial area of focus for estate directors throughout 2017. The relationship between estate directors and construction companies will be important given the likely upward pressure on costs and skilled labour shortages, set against the sector’s continued significant capital investment programme.
The future remains challenging, so there is a need for universities to maintain cost controls and drive efficiency in their operations. Estate directors will remain focused on quality, efficiency and value for money. We need to continue creating environments in which students learn and live of which we can be suitably proud, as there is a clear link between student choice of institution and the quality of the estate.
2017 will be a defining year in shaping the future of higher education.