An evolving campus

There are both challenges and exciting times ahead for the University of Surrey, as Hannah Oakman found on a recent campus visit

Set to celebrate its 50th anniversary as a university in 2016, it seemed a fitting time for University Business to take a trip to Surrey and its eponymous university. Starting life as Battersea Technical College in London, the University now numbers 15,000 students at its Guildford campuses and is proud to be named The Times and The Sunday Times University of the Year for 2016.

With its ever-evolving campus, growing student population and strategic plans for growth, we were welcomed onto campus by Director of Estates Trevor Humphreys and Assistant Director of Estates Jacqui Lipinski. Both relatively new in their roles (Trevor recently leaving the University of Leicester to join Surrey, and Jacqui moving over from Deputy IT Director) they are bringing a fresh vision to campus master-planning as well as boosting the efficiency of the vast facilities team employed to keep things running in a ship-shape fashion. 

As Trevor explains: “It’s great to have the mixture of construction industry and information technology skills on the team as it will help us deliver our services more efficiently as systems really do underpin everything we do.”

Jacqui agrees, adding: “If you look at how technology has changed only in the last five years, estates can get left behind somewhat, so there’s a lot of change we can implement. It’s not only the mobile and other technology, but also looking at how the technology fits in from a business process perspective, thinking more in terms of how you’re managing a business operation with the technology playing a fundamental role in this.” 

Managing the estates team at any university is not a straightforward task and Surrey has around 300 employees within estates to keep track of. Recruitment is a challenge as it is across the sector, with securing the best people a fundamental part of Trevor and Jacqui’s strategy. 

“We have a low ‘churn’ rate, but we have difficulty recruiting at all levels because of our location and competing with the London job market,” Jacqui explains. 

What I really like about the team here at Surrey is that the Executive really understand how important the campus is to our sustainability as a university in an ever-changing higher education landscape

On the up 

The University has certainly experienced many changes and achievements in recent years, now rising to fourth in the UK in some major league tables. Ambitious plans for growth are shared across the board, not least by new Vice-Chancellor Professor Max Lu, one of the most cited academics in the world. He aims to grow the research strength of the University, one of the best in the country for teaching STEM subjects, as well as boost student numbers from around 15,000 currently to over 20,000 by 2021. 

There are a few obstacles to growth, the main one being a shortage of student accommodation for prospective students. The land value in the South East, especially Surrey, is very high and this brings issues. All the existing student accommodation is owned and operated by the University itself. There are now plans afoot to build a further 1,000 high-quality beds on campus within the next eight months to allow more students to come.

The Surrey team has recently secured a private placement of £120m to raise funds for further development; £75m of which will fund Phase 2 of the new student accommodation, with the balance used to fund further strategic transformational projects. 

As Trevor adds: “Part of my current responsibility is to develop a new masterplan to shape the campus in a response to future growth, looking at teaching spaces, catering, and whether we are using our existing facilities as efficiently as we could be?” 

There are also plans afoot to maximise on the success of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, reportedly ranked number one in the UK, with the addition of a ‘learning hotel’, whereby essential training would meet commercial enterprise in one go. 

The team also has its sights set on a new Medical School, often the ‘jewel in the crown’ of any university. Jacqui explains: “There’s a crisis in the NHS, we’re not training enough doctors as the government caps the number of students each university can take. Therefore, we’ve been lobbying the government around the development of a medical school.” 

“If we were successful”, adds Trevor, “and it’s a big if, we would start to make plans to really push our One Health Agenda, integrating a medical school on campus with our health and medical sciences faculty, links with our successful Veterinary School, the Surrey Sports Park and the Royal Surrey Hospital.” In turn, this would release space on the Stag Hill campus to allow more room for social sciences and the School of Management.

On our visit, we’re intrigued to see the 5G masts dotted around campus, a visual clue to the massive £70m investment by 5G providers to use the campus as a test bed or ‘living lab’. The 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at the University of Surrey is now the largest UK academic research centre dedicated to the development of the next generation of mobile and wireless communications.

“The project is currently heavily research-based, aiming to bring new technology to Third World countries and opening up global access to future mobile technology,” Jacqui explains. 

As if this wasn’t enough, building is underway for a brand new Engineering for Health Building, partly funded to by the last HEFCE teaching STEM capital round, with a £5m investment (total build cost £12m), which will be opening in January 2017 and help to accommodate expanding numbers of social science students. There is also an over-arching desire to create more of a ‘heart of the campus’, a perfectly located central point of arrival, with multi-functional spaces and landmark buildings. 

As Trevor concludes: “What I really like about the team here at Surrey is that the Executive really understand how important the campus is to our sustainability as a university in an ever-changing higher education landscape. It’s crucial we continue to invest for our future.” 


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