Higher concerns

David Keith of property and infrastructure consultants Sweett Group outlines some of the challenges facing university estates

What is Sweett’s role in the education sector?

The higher education sector remains a key market for Sweett Group, who provide a whole host of services including cost management, project management, building surveying, advisory and specialist services. Over the last three years, we have positioned ourselves as a consultancy of choice, working for 75% of the UK’s leading universities. Our professional team helps our university clients to deliver high-quality, sustainable buildings to effectively optimise space across their estates.

What are your current projects within UK higher education?

Sweett Group is currently working on over 50 live university projects across its 22 UK offices. We have been working with the University of Cambridge since 2006, cost-managing both new-build and refurbishment projects. We are currently undertaking various projects for the University of Bristol, most notably the National Composite Centre which will bring together dynamic companies and enterprising academics to develop new technologies. We’ve also have been appointed to provide cost management services on a new £200m engineering campus development for the University of Manchester.

Our Scottish offices, meanwhile, are renowned for their expertise in this sector, having worked for the University of Edinburgh for over 14 years and recently completing Phase 1 of the Garthdee Campus in Aberdeen.

What is your own role at Sweett?

I am a Director of Cost Consultancy within the London office, with over 15 years’ experience providing cost consultancy services on a number of complex projects in the higher education sector. I am currently the framework director for a number of high profile universities.

What have been the main changes for university estates over the last five years?

We have seen changes to funding arrangements, including the introduction of increased tuition fees, plus changes in teaching methods, with the growth of online and virtual degrees. There is also increased concern around carbon reductions and energy usage, while the growing popularity of STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) has resulted in moreprojects requiring laboratory and research facilities and high-tech teaching centres.

What are the main challenges currently facing university estates?

The main challenge currently facing many universities is that of attracting students. With students now paying considerably more for their tertiary education, it is natural to expect that they will want value for money. Rising fees are matched by rising expectations.

Investment in parts of the estate that will improve an institution’s educational performance is the most effective way to attract students. Clearly, improved educational outcomes and employment prospects will be foremost in students’ minds, but the overall student experience is of paramount importance to the sustainability of the institution.

What do the next few years hold for university estates?

The quality of existing building stock will be the biggest challenge facing this sector over the next three years. Many university estates have particular fears over not being able to meet set carbon and energy targets. The council have set minimum targets (10-15% for renewable energy for new developments) in order to comply with carbon reduction commitments. However, universities are currently struggling to put these targets into practice as the changes required are expensive to implement. Growth and expansion opportunities will also be a major issue due to current funding constraints.

How has Sweett adapted to these changes?

We have regular education sector group meetings which include representation from all our Regional Operational Units across the UK, providing a forum for sharing best practice across our organisation which can then be used for the benefit of our clients.

Our ‘Sector Champions’ are responsible for optimising business opportunities, ensuring high-quality service delivery and the dissemination of knowledge to key sector individuals. Our Higher Education Sector Champion Peter Taylor chairs sector meetings every six weeks, sharing knowledge and expertise with the higher and further education sector team.

Moreover, Sweett Group has recently strengthened its higher education consultancy team with a number of key appointments, in order to adapt to the threats and challenges university estates will face.

www.sweettgroup.com

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