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Estate of play

The major concern facing estates managers post-Brexit: the status of the UK construction market. Nicole Yeeles reports

Posted by Rianna Newman | July 22, 2017 | Facilities management

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has indicated that the construction sector could lose 8% of its workforce if a hard Brexit results in no access to the single market. Mike Clark, director of estates and facilities management at the University of Brighton, is also chair of the Association of University Directors of Estates or AUDE. He said: “The loss of European workers would impact the industry which is already faced with a severe skills shortage and lack of visible investment in future training. The impact on the UK HE sector is likely to be significant.”

So, in this spirit of uncertainty about both university funding and the future of capital projects, how can universities future-proof their estates? Clark says: “Universities engaged in major capital programmes are already monitoring the situation very carefully and mitigating the potential impact through appropriate risk management measures.” It’s a case of forewarned is forearmed. Moreover, if construction costs rise, then university estate teams will have to continue to work even harder to show how they’re delivering increased value for money, something they can plan for now.

Working within these constraints, it’s encouraging to see universities are continuing to push ahead with major projects – often working closer than ever with key partners to help manage risk. Clark says: “Universities have been through a period of significant upheaval and the sector should be commended on its robust management and efficiency strategies, which continue to serve it well.”

In June, the University of Salford and Salford City Council jointly announced the architect which would develop plans for a new campus at Peel Park. Their ambitious brief is to review the University’s entire estate at Peel Park, and the adjacent city area, to create one city district covering 99 hectares (244 acres) that enhances and connects with surrounding neighbourhoods and communities and helps drive the local economy. 

The architects 5plus will be working on an area that houses key Salford buildings like its museum and art gallery, as well as educational assets. Their director, Tony Skipper, explained how the benefits will be felt outside the University bounds. He said: “The opportunities presented by the masterplan are vast. It will be about more than just creating a new signature for the University. It will be about understanding how local people, culture, heritage, industry, sport and leisure contribute to place and how the framework will allow Salford to look forward with absolute confidence.”

Peel campus at University of Salford

When it comes to investments, many universities are also prioritising the places with the greatest student footprints, from residences to students’ union buildings. It makes good business sense, as Clark explains: “The university estate continues to be a major feature in the marketing of universities and is seen as a key factor as to why students choose the university they do. The role of estate and facilities teams is crucial in delivering the best student experience possible, whether that’s high-class accommodation, libraries or social spaces.”

By way of example, Queen's University Belfast plans to start construction in 2019 of a brand new student centre incorporating all student services under one roof. Meanwhile, at its new Waterside campus the University of Northampton is doing away with lecture theatres in favour of more flexible ‘teaching spaces’. Already, Northampton has redesigned two-thirds of its courses to support its ‘active blended learning’ approach and the new teaching spaces are part of a strategy to give students best value face-to-face time with their tutors. Estates teams will increasingly need to work in close consort with IT teams to deliver the very best student experience.

Waterside campus, University of Northampton

University of Hertfordshire students and researchers now benefit from a science centre which boasts the largest clinical simulation area in the UK. Solution architect for audio visual (AV) and digital media at the University Adam Harvey says: “With hundreds of teaching and learning spaces in your estates you have to be mindful that if you want everyone to benefit from new practices or technology then it needs to be available to all and supportable to maintain its reliability and effectiveness.”

In celebration of the exciting developments across the UK, this April the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) held the third annual AUDE Awards. The awards recognise the achievements of institutions, alongside best practice in the industry that supports them. The judges were on the search for teams, projects and individuals who have made a significant contribution to the sector by upholding excellence and value for money, promoting efficiency and effectiveness.

This year the University Impact Initiative of the Year Award went to The University of Manchester for their sustainability engagement programme. This comprised two projects, the first of which was a large-scale initiative bringing together both the academic and professional communities in the University, as well as 5,000 students. The participants’ mission was to work together to design a new campus for the fictional ‘University of Millchester’. Working in groups with people they often hadn’t met before, the students had to incorporate costs and energy efficiency, while paying attention to the needs of the local community. The aim was for people to learn more about the issues around energy, community relations and social responsibility, while developing leadership skills.

AUDE Awards 2017

The other project, 10,000 Actions, encouraged staff to learn about the key issues of sustainability such as travel, responsible purchasing and energy. It was focused on the actions that they as individuals can take to make a difference. More than 20,000 actions have been pledged and many carried out since the scheme launched in January. They range from cycling to work to joining local environmental groups. Julian Skyrme, director of social responsibility, said: “Socially responsible action is one of the key objectives of the University. These projects are part of how we translate that ideal to real action. Through 10,000 Actions and the Sustainability Challenge, our staff and students are learning skills and taking action that makes Manchester and beyond better for everyone.”

The AUDE Chair’s Award for long-term contribution went to Chris Jagger, chief estates and facilities officer for the University of Nottingham. Its UK footprint covers 1,614 acres over four campus areas and Chris is also in charge of overseas sites in China and Malaysia. Chris commented: “I’m thrilled to win the AUDE award for long-term contribution to the estate and facilities sector. My career has spanned over 22 years and it’s a fantastic achievement for my work to be recognised by AUDE, an organisation I am proud to be a part of.”

From the experienced, to the new; the Emerging Talent Award went to joint winners Grant McGillivray at the University of Glasgow and Stewart Crowe of the University of Liverpool. Grant is the 21-year-old apprentice to Glasgow’s estates and management team, with a bright future in engineering ahead. Having completed his MBA, Stewart is working on a more positive health and safety culture at Liverpool, working on improving colleagues’ understanding of the topic. Stewart is also widening his influence through engagement with the Health and Safety Executive and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), through his work as chair of the University Health and Safety Association (USHA).

The AUDE Estates/Facilities Team of the Year Award was presented to Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). Their model shows how universities can successfully look after people using a so-called ‘residential life’ way of thinking, which offers a complete pastoral care package engaging students, staff and the local community. Taking inspiration from universities in the US, MMU operates a system of senior students living alongside freshers to help them settle in, with daily drop-in sessions and regular events to promote a sense of community. At MMU, 97% of student accommodation remains filled throughout the academic year, so the link between that all-important sense of belonging and academic success is clear.

To make any of these changes, though, requires buy-in from senior management and a team with the right influence to make changes. Clark says: “A great estate team will be at the core of their institution.” The challenge for estate teams is to keep their visibility high at executive board level while budgets are stretched, so that their priorities and the university’s can be aligned. Brexit may be uncertain, but there’s no doubt that the collaborative approach will continue to be crucial.

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