Peak performance

High standards for UK higher education estates

The recently published Higher Education Estates Management Report 2018 (EMR) from AUDE (The Association of University Directors of Estates) suggests that the UK’s overall university estate is performing better now than it ever has, despite a climate of considerable uncertainty. With more than 1.7million students now in the UK HE system it’s more important than ever that we set our standards high. But how does AUDE arrive at that claim?

AUDE analyses data from across more than 160 AUDE member institutions and matches that against long-established KPIs measuring Efficiency, Quality, Value and Sustainability. That might sound like the very height of techno-speak – but each of these relates to the everyday practical ability of the university to function and succeed. These KPIs help estates teams think about every indicator of success from the standard of accommodation and teaching spaces to the university’s ability to attract and retain staff, provide a well-rounded and high-quality student experience, and compete successfully in an increasingly global education marketplace. If the estate doesn’t foster and promote those aims then the institution starts to fail, so key is it in achieving organisational success. And the data tells us that against these KPIs overall performance is better than it has ever been.

The picture is mixed of course, and it is bound to be given the differences between our universities. The EMR report benchmarks our HEIs, dividing them for comparison purposes by size and by teaching as opposed to research specialism. Estates directors and teams use the report in planning strategy, and the data and analysis gives them the clear sense of where they stand – that means that in working with peer directors and VCs they have access to the factual underpinning that gives them confidence in their strategic decision-making. The EMR acts as an information base at a time of uncertainty. We might characterise that uncertainty in many ways, from the aftermath of the Carillion collapse, to the tragic events at Grenfell, and of course to the ongoing lack of clarity about Brexit and its outcomes. All three will lead to change within estates – though exactly what, we don’t yet know. The EMR provides a factual grounding for strategic choices.

The report’s headline figure – of £3bn in capital expenditure and a similar figure on aspects of facilities management such as security, maintenance and cleaning – reminds us what significant drivers of the national and local economies universities are, and from Falmouth in the south to Inverness in the north. We are used to thinking of universities adding value in terms of their teaching and research, but that level of financial investment matters – in the construction phase initially, but then in every ongoing expense, much of which makes its way to smaller, local providers of services.

As Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and VC at the University of Manchester, highlights in her foreword, the report “illustrates improved efficiencies in the sector.” As it should – that’s exactly what we want to demonstrate: great work from great estates teams. Inevitably any individual estate can be looked at through different lenses. Finance Directors will be interested in the “Value” KPI, while Carbon Managers will focus on Sustainability. Case studies throughout – from the University of Huddersfield’s “Building without debt” to ideas from the University of Lincoln for enhancing student wellbeing on campus – will guide readers towards best practice. And AUDE members will find the specific prompts to help them make the right decisions on the big themes and choices facing their institution, whether that be income and expenditure on the residential estate or the best way to fund that world-beating new facility.

This year’s report also throws a spotlight across many of the big themes that universities and estates teams are considering in 2018. These include student experience, from cutting edge learning spaces to affordable but attractive residential accommodation and student wellbeing provision. AUDE members are also thinking about quality vs cost within a framework of compliance – the daily juggling act for AUDE members at a time of continuing downward pressure on costs; and the role of the estate as a physical environment - in staff attraction and retention at a time of increasing international competition.

AUDE members including Janis Pich (University of Reading), Sean Woulfe (Kingston University) and Sue Holmes (until recently Director of Estates at Oxford Brookes) led the input and analysis from AUDE.

For a fifth year AUDE has worked with CBRE to co-author the report. George Griffith, Head of University Consulting at CBRE said: “The University sector is a largely hidden gem within the UK property industry. Across the sector, over £3bn has been invested in the last year in new buildings, with a similar amount spent annually on running the estate. This looks set to continue, providing improving estates across the country. The insights in the report highlight how university estate continues to improve in quality, and how investment is broadly spread across UK cities.”

Keith Lilley, AUDE Chair and Director of Estates, Facilities Management and IT at the University of Sheffield, said: “AUDE creates an environment for its members in which estates professionals can ponder complexity and develop the right solutions, and work such as our annual Estates Management Report is part of that professional service. It is an essential tool within the full range of support that AUDE offers to its members. The AUDE Annual Conference and Big Conversation events are unmissable parts of the HE estates management calendar, while AUDE’s Sustainability Leadership Scorecard helps senior leadership teams understand the multi-faceted challenge of delivering against the sustainability agenda in their university.”