• University sector management and maintenance costs remain stable for third year running at £2bn despite increase in operational costs and estate size
• UK university estate continues to be transformed to the tune of £3bn providing world-class education to 1.7m students
• Difficult student recruitment period ahead as the number of young people decreases and Brexit poses international student shortage
The University sector continues to transform its estate to meet the demands of teaching and research in a digital 24-hour learning environment but keeps its costs at a three-year low. These cost savings are made despite an extraordinarily challenging political environment, according to the Association of University Directors of Estates’ (AUDE’s) annual report, released today (6 October 2017).
The publication, entitled Higher Education Estates Management Report 2017 spans the academic year 2015-16, and details the evolving profile of the university estate in the UK.
The UK university estate is managing an additional 500,000m2 of space as well as the comprehensive refurbishment of older buildings. Despite this increase in the size and complexity of the university estate, directors of estates have worked to keep costs down, and total property cost (revenue spending) has remained relatively level for the third year in a row at £2.04bn.
The size of the University estate is difficult to envisage, but it is approximately the size of 230,000 three bedroomed houses (CABE dwelling size survey 2010).
• Estate size increases by 500,000m2 from 21,400,000 to 21,900,000m2 (GIA)
• Total property costs remain at £2.0bn per annum, same as previous 3 years
• Income per m2 (a measure of estate utilisation) continues to rise above the rate of inflation
• Capital expenditure significant in some institutions:
o 20 institutions with the largest capital spend, spent 50% of the total HE sector spend
o 80% of the entire sector’s capital was expended by 54 out of the 154 institutions
o Four institutions spend £100m each a year – Cambridge, Imperial, UCL, Edinburgh
• There has been an increase in estate utilisation of 4% between 2014/15 to 2015/16 and has risen 14% between 2013/14 to 2014/15, as universities make every metre squared work hard to accommodate demand for world-class facilities
• The number of young people available for recruitment from the UK into universities will continue to decrease to a historic low over the next four to five years
Capital expenditure in UK university estate reached £3bn a year for the first time, with funds spent on refurbishing old buildings and also on building newer, more carbon efficient premises to decrease running costs long-term.
Despite the large expenditure figure, the experience of most universities with capital investment will be much more modest, with many directors of estates having to make difficult decisions about what they invest in. These decisions will only become more difficult, according to Mike Clark, AUDE’s chair, and director of estate & facilities management at the University of Brighton.
He said: “Smaller institutions will be keeping a very close eye on their bottom line, choosing between refurbishing older buildings to cut backlog maintenance costs or creating entirely new more carbon-efficient spaces. While it’s likely these decisions cause sleepless nights already, with the threat of further decreased income as a result of the Teaching Excellence Framework’s sanctions, and a historic low in those available to recruit to university, more turbulent times are almost certainly ahead. For many institutions, the challenge will be to develop capital programmes to update their estate whilst student numbers remain level, or for some, even reduce.”
The demographics of the UK show that the number of people available to go to university will continue to reduce for the next four to five years to a historic low, before numbers start to recover again.
Mike Clark continued: “Alongside the uncertainty of Brexit, and studying in the UK a potentially more difficult process than ever before for overseas students, diving efficiency, reducing costs, improving service and increasing the commercial income from the estate will be vital for the survival of many institutions.”
A key driver for the investment is the age of the university estate: approximately one third of the estate was built between 1960 and 1979 and will be at the end of its design life soon, continuing to need substantial refurbishment or replacement and demanding continued capital investment. Overall, however, with investment over recent years, the age of the university estate is now getting younger.
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