From student experience to staff parking – how to manage the modern university estate

A time when university estates face challenges from every quarter – financial uncertainty, student satisfaction, sustainability – calls for a fresh batch of solutions. Keri Beckingham looks at some of the improvements leading the sector

The role of university estate managers has never been more complex. In order to provide the best campus experience for students, staff and visitors, they have a lot to consider when it comes to redevelopments and new facilities. So what are the current trends and challenges they face and what can they learn from the experiences of other institutions?

What makes a great estate?

It’s important estate managers can deliver the student experience. This means ensuring that it is clean, functional, inviting, safe and caters to their needs. 

As Matt Morrell, head of facilities management at estates company Pinnacle Group, explains: “Student intake used to be determined on the strength of the teaching and the university that delivered the best grades. 

“Now, it’s also based on the strength of the estate facilities, what they have to offer and how modern they are.”

Matt Summerill is a partner at property and construction consultant Ridge, which has delivered a variety of project management services for university estates including the Arts University Bournemouth’s Enterprise Building, Anglia Ruskin’s Health and Social Building and the Open University’s Jennie Lee Building. He believes a great university estate needs to have flexible buildings and spaces, which are adaptable for future developments and activities. He also says that they should have a range of green credentials, from their use of sustainable materials to low- or zero-carbon technologies.

Summerill says: “The buildings should also provide the integration of digital strategies which are critical due to the fast-paced nature of tech and how significantly it is influencing teaching and learning, communication, workplace design and productivity.”

Case Study – the University of Huddersfield

The University of Huddersfield’s estates team was recently awarded the AUDE estates team of the year award for 2019 for their training, social engagement, their smart campus and their student satisfaction results. 

Commenting on the win, Jane White says: “Huddersfield’s university estate really is one of the best-run in the country. Not only is 96% of the estate measured at RICS Condition A&B (an extraordinary improvement since 1997 of +75%); not only is the university rated as among the top 10 most financially viable, with estates development funded on zero borrowings; but the team has engaged widely in intervention after intervention to improve the standard of performance.”

In addition, the university’s £18.2m science teaching facility is on schedule to open this summer. Landscaping work around the Joseph Priestley Building’s new extension is underway, and includes a new amphitheatre-like courtyard area with broad steps leading to the Joseph Priestley Building and the science block, and an enclosed lift for wheelchair users and others with mobility issues.

University of Huddersfield Joseph Priestley Building finishing touches

Challenges for estate management

Jane White, executive director of the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) thinks current scrutiny of university finances, particularly in the wake of the Augar report, is something that continues to challenge estate managers. She says: “Spending on estates is the second highest cost in higher education, surpassed only by staff costs. Those estates teams that are maintaining and investing in the university fabric without borrowing are helping to show a way forward.”

Morrell agrees that reduced budgets are a challenge many estate managers continue to face, especially as there are still many universities with ageing estates and significant maintenance costs as a result. He says: “This is one of the reasons for the increase in private funding and long-term infrastructure partnerships.

“The utilising of private capital investment is becoming much more prevalent as it allows universities to redevelop their estates when they don’t have their own capital to do so.”

Summerill believes attracting and retaining the best students is continuing to influence the role of the estates manager, due to an increase in competition between institutions and the need to keep up with advances in technology. He says: “Facilities that are no longer fit for purpose will detract students in favour of more modern facilities, so they must be maintained, adapted and replaced accordingly – and new facilities must be designed with the next generation of socially and environmentally conscious students in mind.”

Case Study – the University of Bristol

The University of Bristol has just 450 parking spaces spread over 62 car parks for more than 7,000 staff, and has always faced significant challenges in prioritising, monitoring and policing its parking resources on its city centre campus. With the continuing expansion of the university, it was clear that the administrative complexities and limitations of conventional paper-based permits were failing to deliver the right outcomes.

Open Parking’s PermitSmarti system was introduced at the university in September 2018 and according to security services manager (support) Guy Worrall it has not only transformed service levels and efficiencies but has also helped to minimise parking contraventions.

“The new virtual permit solution has completely transformed the way we manage our parking facilities and has greatly simplified and improved the permit application process for staff.

“Although we only provide campus parking for eligible staff and disabled bays for both staff and students, we now have an automated and much more disciplined and versatile solution that is helping us to ensure fairness for everyone at all times.”

The issue of parking

Ensuring that staff, students and visitors have somewhere to park on campus is a conundrum that every university struggles with. Although it is important for institutions to support and encourage the use of public transport and cycling, some stakeholders have no other way to get to campus. Parking provision is a problem for both city-centre and out-of-town universities.

Mandy Watson is sales team manager at Open Parking, a parking management company that works with a number of universities. As well as the risk of students opting for another university if convenient car parking is not available, she also believes lack of provision could affect the recruitment of high-quality staff and hinder efforts to maximise the use of campus facilities.

She says: “To address such issues and to maintain fairness and optimum accessibility at all times, parking must be controlled and the development of a comprehensive and integrated approach for parking permits and parking vouchers is vital.

“For this reason, more and more universities are opting for an automated, self-serve and integrated permit management system and hosted management solutions to deliver the best possible service for staff, students and visitors.” 

Case Study – Heriot-Watt University

Heriot-Watt University’s new £19m GRID (Global, Research, Innovation and Discovery) project reached a major milestone in February, after construction work was completed. The university has now progressed to the next phase, where a host of cutting-edge technology including IT systems and a games studio will be installed ahead of the building’s formal opening in the autumn. 

GRID is located in the heart of Heriot-Watt’s Edinburgh campus and offers a new approach to teaching and learning by allowing students to work on real-world problems, across disciplines to deliver practical solutions with worldwide impact. It will also help advance the university’s international reputation for research and innovation.

Commenting on the progress, Dr Gill Murray, deputy principal of enterprise and business, says: “GRID really is more than a building. It will change how we teach and apply our entrepreneurial minds and skills to solving global issues.”

SPONSORED: How secure is your campus?

Campus security is a hot topic. Here, Essentra Security’s sales and marketing manager Sue Woodcock discusses some common features of modern ID technology which are vital for a campus-integrated card issuance programme. 

What can a new ID solution offer?

There are a number of reasons why you may be considering the introduction or expansion of a new smart campus card scheme, including:

● Meeting campus demands for an integrated student card programme 

● Providing a one card, multiple applications approach for access, transport, student ID, cashless vending amongst others.

● Enhancement of security surrounding physical and system access control.

Modern ID technology can seamlessly integrate with your current access control or campus security system, bringing a full end-to-end solution. As well as monitoring attendance at fire drills, and controlling access to restricted areas for students and visitors, in one card you can also offer cashless vending, a library pass, transport passes and more.

What should estates teams be aware of?

It’s important to work with a partner that understands the complexities of this specialist area of the security market, with full, manufacturer trained, in-house support. 

To find out more about Essentra Security, visit their website.

You might also like: Lancaster University’s £13m research lab gets government backing

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