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The real estates

Top teaching must be matched by first-rate facilities for universities to compete. Steve Wright looks at the latest and best campus developments

Posted by Julian Owen | October 24, 2017 | Facilities

Competition for students is as fierce as it’s ever been. What’s more, the large financial burden now expected of those students means that, more than ever before, they demand that a university’s teaching and facilities fulfil their academic and professional aspirations, paint a picture of where they could be at the end of their studies and, in short, offer a return on that hefty financial investment. To that end, UK universities are investing in cutting-edge facilities that complement the elite teaching they are able to offer, knowing that top teaching must be matched by first-rate facilities.

An example of this kind of forward thinking has just taken place at the University of Lincoln, whose Isaac Newton Building has established a landmark new centre of excellence for teaching and research in core science and technology disciplines. The new-build pairs the University’s established strengths in Engineering and Computer Science with its new School of Mathematics and Physics.

The first purpose-built facility of its kind to be created in the UK for more than two decades, Lincoln’s School of Engineering was originally launched in 2009 from a unique collaboration with Siemens, and has since won a string of national awards as an exemplar of how academia and industry can work together. A further £28m has now been invested, creating the new and expanded Isaac Newton Building. 

As well as tripling the size of the existing Engineering Hub and introducing additional teaching, social and research spaces, plus further facilities for Siemens’ training centre, the building houses Lincoln’s Schools of Engineering and Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics, bringing these related disciplines together under one roof. 

The building, which features a stunning 500-seat lecture theatre, takes its name from Sir Isaac Newton, perhaps the world’s greatest-ever scientist and mathematician, who lived at Woolsthorpe Manor, near Grantham, Lincolnshire. It opened in late spring 2017 ready to welcome students for the 2017/18 academic year.

Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus

Elsewhere, the University of Bristol has revealed its initial vision for its new £300m campus next to the city’s Temple Meads rail station. Known as the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus, the development will be one of Bristol’s most significant regeneration projects in recent history.

Teaching and research on the seven-acre site will focus on digital technologies and their application by citizens, organisations and industry – bringing together leading academic expertise in areas such as data science, computer science, engineering and management.

The University will also expand its successful Engine Shed enterprise hub and build a new student village, as well as improving the public realm – including new cycle and pedestrian links to the surrounding area.

Professor Hugh Brady, the University’s Vice-Chancellor and President, said: “We have been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine our future as one of the world’s great civic universities, while also transforming a key site at the heart of our city. We don’t yet know exactly what our new campus will look like, but we do know that we want it to be a place for the whole city to learn, explore and enjoy.”

The University will also be working with Bristol City Council to ensure that the campus complements plans for the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone, which is one of the largest urban regeneration projects in the UK. Fully developed, the Enterprise Zone has the potential to attract over 17,000 jobs over its 25-year lifetime and add a further £100m a year to the city’s economy.

“Our aim is for it to be completely porous with the city, serving the social, economic and talent needs of the region, which will position both the University and the city for continued success on the world stage,” Professor Brady explains. “Engaging with all communities in the city is critical to achieving our vision.

“We intend to work with businesses, social enterprises, public sector bodies and community and cultural organisations to co-design and co-deliver education and skills training in innovative new ways, better suited to the needs of employers and workers in the knowledge economy. This will enable us to build a talent pipeline of creative graduates who embrace social responsibility as well as opportunity.”

The development will build upon the University’s established strengths such as Engine Shed, an enterprise hub that contributed £7m to the economy in its first year, and currently supports 77 tech companies, who between them have created more than 1,200 jobs. “Engine Shed has been a hugely successful collaboration between the University and the city,” Professor Brady explains. “Our new campus will do this and more, providing a thriving digital economy with the pipeline of talent, ideas and technologies that it will need.

“Bristol has one of the UK’s largest and fastest-growing high-tech clusters, thriving creative industries and world-leading super-fast experimental digital infrastructure. Our city is already being used as a test-bed for new digital innovation, and this development is uniquely placed to deliver on the government’s Industrial Strategy announced earlier this year.”

Leeds' Nexus Building

Planning consultancy Indigo Planning have enjoyed some fruitful recent collaborations with UK universities. For example, the consultancy is currently working with the University of London to deliver a masterplan centred around the main library at the University’s Grade-II listed Senate House and the adjacent Bloomsbury Conservation Area. The proposals will contribute to the development of the largest university district in Europe, and will help to create a world-class environment for education.

Elsewhere, Indigo is advising the University of Cambridge on their masterplan for the Old Press/Mill Lane Site, which aims to redevelop part of the historic core of the city.

The masterplan will provide a range of uses, including graduate and private accommodation, a hotel, food and drink outlets, retail space and offices. It will regenerate the city centre and allow the University to modernise and reorganise.

Indigo has also recently secured planning consent for Nexus, a £40m innovation and enterprise centre for the University of Leeds. Nexus will help businesses to access the University’s world-class research – and forms part of the University’s wider proposals for its Southern Campus. Construction began in January 2017 and completion is anticipated in the summer of 2018. 

The £40m investment will offer a gateway to help businesses access the University’s world-class research, and is aimed at positioning Leeds as one of the UK’s top HE institutions. Nexus will provide tenants with high-quality office and lab space, plus a range of spaces for networking and collaboration – including meeting rooms, a café and a business lounge.

Indigo also assisted in the creation of Leeds’ new £96m Centre of Engineering and Physical Sciences, allowing engineering, physics, astronomy, and computing to be integrated into one building, enabling cutting-edge research and collaboration. The development forms part of a £520m investment by the University, aimed at creating a world-leading research base.

Due for completion in 2020, the new 15,700 sq m building integrate the University’s Engineering, Physics and Astronomy, and Computing disciplines. The facility will also include first-class laboratory and specialised teaching spaces, enabling cutting-edge research, while enhancing the University’s research power and strengthening collaboration in the industry.

Professor Lisa Roberts, the University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), said: “These two investments form part of our ambitious £520m programme to create a world-class research campus. These projects are specifically designed to help companies and other organisations harness the University’s superb research capabilities, fostering a culture of inter-disciplinary working to address real-world problems in a cutting-edge environment.”

"UK universities are investing in cutting-edge facilities that complement the elite teaching they are able to offer, knowing that top teaching must be matched by first-rate facilities."

Innovation doesn’t have to be limited to the built environment, of course. Scientia is the leading supplier of academic timetabling and resource management solutions worldwide, with more than 50% of the UK HE market using its products and services. Scientia’s Syllabus Plus scheduling software is familiar to many working within academic services and student registry, but less so in estates. That’s set to change, though, with the growth in timetable data being used innovatively across the campus. 

Examples include Clocks, the pioneering space-management solution from Netherlands-based Lone Rooftop. Clocks utilises a ‘Position Intelligence Engine’ (PIE) to calculate the position of people inside a building via their devices, primarily using existing university Wi-Fi networks. Working in partnership, Scientia and Lone Rooftop have developed a link which integrates the timetable with anonymous location data to provide powerful insights on how space is used on campus. Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) will become the UK’s first Clocks user later this year, having purchased the solution to inform its 15-year Estates Development Framework, which is currently under development. Donna Cooper, SHU’s Space Resource Manager, said: “Clocks will enable us to see both real-time room use and analyse room use over time – a semester or year. We’ll be able to compare the data with planned use from Scientia’s Syllabus Plus and schedule classes more appropriately, freeing up much-needed space.” 

Donna and the Facilities & Estates Team will use Clocks data to drive new policy around space use at SHU. They’ll be working closely with users to find improved ways of booking and managing space. “We’re an inner-city campus with growing demands on our space, so we simply have to use what we have as efficiently as possible. Over time, it will be a lot more cost-effective than manual space audits – and bring a host of additional benefits.” 

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