Your experts are:
Kevin Stuckey Director of Commercial Services, University of Kent
Paul Wright Service Director, Dormakaba
Gary Bryant UK Country Manager, ITSI
Aldwyn Cooper Vice-Chancellor and CEO, Regent’s University, London
How important can the summer vacation, and other downtime periods, be for universities?
KS: These downtime periods can be very significant, and commercially advantageous, for universities. Despite not having an all-year-round residential venue, our conference activities at the University of Kent generated an income of some £4.5m in 2017 – one of the highest turnovers in the university sector for an institution without a year-round centre. Across the year, the Conferences and Events team staged 4,595 events and sold over 200,000 bednights, mainly during the Easter and summer vacation periods. Kent hosts many annual returning groups, including numerous from mainland Europe and our Bed and Breakfast business has seen huge growth, with 2017 revenue from this sector alone being just over £455k.
Additionally, the business generated by the Conferences and Events department during vacation periods creates employment for around 250 full-time staff and a further 500 casual employees, many of which are Kent students.
GB: During the quiet summer months, universities should prioritise reviewing their resources. When planning for upcoming courses, consider not only the quality of the textbooks, but also their format. Likewise, reflect on the use of any virtual learning environments.
Is more training needed? How have students and academics been engaging with it? Are there needs that cannot currently be met, if so what additional platforms could help? Now is the time to make these updates, and to be ready to use and implement them when students return.
AC: For all universities, the estate represents a major asset but also a high-cost element for the business. This is particularly the case for a small university such as Regent’s University London, set in the middle of London and leased from the Crown Estates. The cost represents a drain of more than three times as much revenue as the average state-funded institution. Therefore, it is imperative that the University maximises the return on this investment, both during teaching weeks and in the breaks between semesters.
There is no single solution that can apply to all universities. The possibilities will be limited by university size, the condition of the buildings, lease or local council restrictions, space configuration, outdoor space availability, and the possible provision of on-campus or local accommodation.
What specific things can universities be doing during the summer vacation and other downtime periods?
AC: The answer to this will vary from one institution to the next. We assume, of course, that the core business of the vast majority of universities continues to be a three-term or two-semester system that ensures that there are periods in the summer and across the December/January break that can, or must, be used for other purposes. However, some institutions will be motivated by the current government’s encouragement of two-year degrees, for which a proportion of students will be on campus and requiring uninterrupted access to campus facilities 46 weeks per year.
For these institutions, dependent on the nature of their campuses, the windows for carrying out essential works or offering other activities on campus will be reduced radically and the added costs of two-year degrees may not make up for the problems that they can cause.
For most institutions, the downtime period must be used for a varied menu of activities, dependent on the university’s main characteristics and needs.
In all likelihood, the priority activities, many of which cannot be completed during termtime, without substantial disruption of student experience, will be the completion of works required for compliance and the planned, phased replacement and upgrades of facilities, which will be important whether or not students are on campus. These would include the improvement of buildings rated as Condition C (‘operational but major repair or replacement needed in the short to medium term’), and Condition D (‘inoperable or serious risk of major failure or breakdown’).
These works could include electrical and mechanical plant replacement or upgrade, energy and water efficiency, IT system and extent of broadband availability, health and safety concerns, security issues, decorative state, suitability for pedagogical processes, disability support, general upgrade and environmental sustainability. Of course, the aim should be to lift all buildings to Condition A (‘as new’ condition), while bearing in mind that expectations and compliance needs are raised all the time. Students, academic staff, employers and regular external users of the campus should always be consulted on the nature of work to be undertaken and its scheduling.
Should universities be investing in specific areas like technology, facilities or estates during downtime, in order to meet the changing student demands?
KS: Commercial Services are continuously looking to make investments to our facilities and services based on the changing student demands.
In terms of student accommodation, we provide a wide range of affordable student accommodation; of 5,400, around 1,050 bedrooms are priced at under £4,500 per year. This includes a small number of twin bedrooms on our Canterbury campus we developed in 2016 after a consultation with Kent Union and market research. At the other end of the accommodation offer, we provide large en suite rooms based on student application and feedback data on the types of accommodation they would like to apply and live in their first year on campus.
We also invest in digital technology to enhance the student accommodation application process through our online virtual tours (VTs). These showcase the University’s award-winning student accommodation, catering outlets and other facilities, at both the Canterbury and Medway campuses. Not only do the VTs help prospective students with their accommodation applications, they also aid engagement with the University website and decrease bounce rates. Our Accommodation Office team also showcases the VTs at open days, where prospective students and their guests can take tours of the accommodation if they are unable to see them in person in the day using virtual reality headsets.
GB: Thinking of students now, and certainly the students of the future, technology is at the heart of their learning. For higher education institutions to meet the needs and expectations of students today and into the future, it is essential that they invest in technology. In order for students to succeed, the technology they use needs to be flexible enough to accommodate multiple learning modalities underpinned by data to help them, their course leaders and the university itself. A higher education institution that is able to provide accessible, offline digital learning resources will really appeal to incoming students and help enhance and enrich their experience, retention and outcomes.
AC: The priority is to upgrade facilities that are of direct benefit to staff and student experience and to external clients for educational, business and conference meetings. This does not necessarily require the commissioning of extremely expensive investments in state-of-the-art buildings funded through high levels of gearing and which may not provide the benefits that users actually want or require. Servicing high levels of debt, even at low fixed-rate interest, is starting to prove problematic in this turbulent higher education market. Often, excellent, low-cost and less disruptive solutions can be identified through consultation and innovation.
Should universities use their facilities for external events, conferences, etc, or should they carry out any necessary maintenance work for the academic year ahead?
KS: Here at Kent, we believe that both have equal importance. We are tasked with maximising the use of the estate while students are off campus/periods of downtime while working with key stakeholders to follow a structured, effective refurbishment programme.
Kent Hospitality manages residential accommodation for over 5,400 University of Kent students and has spent circa £18m on refurbishment and adding to its facilities in the last five years. This includes operating a regular refurbishment programme for campus residential accommodation, which has enabled it to attract a four/five-star campus rating from Visit England.
The larger refurbishment activity will mainly take place over the summer vacation period, when students are off campus and the bedrooms and catering outlets can be taken out of the conference facility allocation for that period. We work with trusted, frequently used suppliers as well as the Estates department to ensure the projects are both cost- and time-efficient and produce award-winning facilities for our students.
GB: While the summer months are ideal to carry out refurbishment projects, it is unlikely that all renovations could be carried out at once. I would argue that it is possible for universities to successfully do both: conduct maintenance in areas that require it most, while using other areas of campus to hold events.
PW: It is a good idea to use university downtime for training and maintenance. What also could be helpful for the estates and facilities department is to take this opportunity to get your staff fully trained or update their door security and access training: this is easily done with Dormakaba products, as the mobile showroom can come to you. With expert assistance on-hand from our knowledgeable consultants, the Dormakaba mobile showroom is an ideal way to bring maintenance staff up to date on door hardware compliance and to get up-to-date training on all Dormakaba products on campus, from access control to automatics to mechanical key systems.
Inside the showroom, customers will find products including entrance systems, door hardware, mechanical key systems, lodging systems, electronic access and data, interior glass systems and safe locks. In 2016, we commissioned a new truck to provide visitors with a modern, hands-on experience of our comprehensive product portfolio.
AC: Generating revenue from other activities, particularly during the summer period, can take many forms. The lowest returns come from simply renting out space to other institutions to run their course or summer schools. The best returns come from using in-house expertise to deliver own-brand programmes and to ensure maximum occupancy of on-site accommodation and use of catering facilities during these periods. For Regent’s University London, bearing in mind our location in Regent’s Park, those programmes offered and those being considered for the future include additional courses, including pre-semester preparation, English language programmes, summer schools offered collaboratively with partner institutions, short specialist summer schools – for example London history, theatre, art, museums, fashion, and foreign language programmes.
Dependent on location and facilities, conferencing can also offer real opportunities both for simple commercial gain and to complement universities’ areas of expertise. These are, of course, best run outside term time as the necessary space is more likely to be available. It should also be noted that, even though students increasingly understand the need for revenue generation, they do not like to share their campus with others if it diverts attention away from their programmes.
The maintenance of the estate and generating additional income sources must be priorities and in that order. Nonetheless, universities should never forget that they are charities and, whether registered or exempt, they have a responsibility to provide public benefit over and above simply the provision of education as their core business. There is an increasing expectation that universities should extend their public benefit beyond the provision of degree- and other-level programmes and their access and participation commitments into additional assistance to the community but, of course, within the stated charitable objectives of the institution. Such activities can include collaboration with schools, masterclasses for teachers, entry programmes for the local community, sharing facilities with other bodies, specialist free programmes – such as languages, IT and entrepreneurism, and assisting local businesses.
How can sustainability help future-proof university facilities?
GB: Updating facilities to be sustainable should be seen as being one step ahead of mandatory regulations and is the right thing to do. However, as important as investments in the likes of clean energy are important, it is also useful to think of these things in the round and how they may also extend to supporting the student experience and success. No one will ever argue for a paper-free university but one the reduction of printing has a tangible cost and environmental benefit as well as creating digital assets which can be repurposed and made available to students in a timely way to support their studies.
It would be better for the institutions’ image, and future outcomes, to invest in improvements sooner rather than later.
External events at a beautiful, easy-to-access location can be very attractive to companies during the summer months. We are fortunate to have extensive lawns and gardens in central London and derive good business from company away days and celebrations through the summer period. However, the provision of this type of event, whether indoors or outdoors is highly competitive, not just between universities but also with professional institutions and commercial providers.
Clients now expect the very best of facilities and services. This includes high-end audio visual equipment, first-class service, good, affordable catering, competitive pricing, easy access to high levels of broadband capacity, expert technological support and excellent customer service. It is also interesting that an increasing number of clients are drawn to providers who have a clear commitment to environmental sustainability. The initial investment in developing this type of business can be high, but the returns also can make good, positive contributions. We manage this through a wholly owned company. However, it must also be remembered that there may also be potential, leasehold, local council or residents’ association restrictions on timing, road access and noise.
And what about edtech? How can technology on campus help future-proof university facilities?
PW: Installing smart technology on campus such as an integrated access control system can steady and control the stream of traffic coming onto the university campus allowing it to be opened to the public during university downtime to make the most use of the facilities while students are away.
York University is an excellent example of where access rights are adapted for many users and for different uses around campus. Access rights can be controlled across the University with a large population of people – containing groups with discrete access permissions and needs. Also, demonstrating the integration of online and offline access control, whilst the online system is integrated into the enterprise resource planning (ERP) and human resources (HR) system. The system installed at York University delivers cost-effective, flexible access control on any door, barrier, lift or access point with a scalable solution, to cover all future developments.
The University of York bears testament to the success of a complete Dormakaba solution. Dormakaba technology has ensured all online and standalone systems can be integrated which not only provides diversity in levels of security but also future-proofs the University of York’s investment.
GB: The future of universities is deeply entwined with edtech. For nearly any pain point you can think of, there is surely an edtech solution available. The difficulty comes in determining what areas to prioritise. I would argue that rather than focusing on facilities it should be the role of technology to help future-proof or enhance university capabilities. What are the capabilities we need to succeed today and into the future? To deliver on these it may mean we have to change our facilities. Universities can access data for greater insight into what is both used and is effective. The generation of that data relies on meeting incoming student expectations with today’s technologies (1:1 devices, collaboration tools, access to learning resources) and using that as a guide to the future.
AC: Educational technology opportunities will be dependent on institutional philosophies. At Regent’s we have a commitment to high levels of face-to-face interaction and small groups. Despite providing an award-winning Managed Learning Environment and supportive apps, the University does not offer online programmes. However, we are starting to provide a limited number of mixed delivery methodology programmes whereby intensive study, perhaps some at times that the majority of students are away such as the summer, is followed up online.
Why virtual events are more engaging than campus-based open days
A misconception about virtual events is that they lack the engagement factor of a physical event. Gavin Newman, Director at Ivent, virtual event specialist for universities, reveals how live chat functionality helps create conversions
We have clearly seen that virtual events generally deliver both quantity and quality ‘engagements’ and a very high conversion rate. In my experience, live chat which includes online, audio and video functionality, entices an increased number of questions and comments. Data from a recent Ivent student recruitment virtual event showed that 65 questions were asked and answered in the space of just over an hour. At another online open day students engaged via the chat function even after the event ended – definitely not something that can be done with a campus-based event.
From the comfort of their own home, prospective students have the confidence to ask more questions than they would in person. Certainly, with our chat function, there is the option to have public or private chats and there is always someone there to answer questions meaning students don’t have to wait around to be seen and then have the pressure of asking their question quickly so that the next person in line gets their turn. Language barriers are eased with digital engagement and students don’t feel embarrassed asking questions on the smallest details they might feel nervous about asking in person.
One of the main reasons for having a student recruitment event at all is to engage prospective students. On the day, this is largely done through chatting with faculty members and asking questions. What we’re saying is that, whilst this clearly happens at a campus-based event, a virtual event makes this process even more effective. How?
Well, for starters, is it possible monitor and log ALL the questions all the students ask throughout the course of the event? Sure, staff might make notes on the questions posed, but the likelihood is that these will get lost in and amongst the activity and will be sporadic at best. The live chat function of a virtual event will not only show the volume of students engaged, but the log of questions asked by individuals is recorded and is then available to use for post event analysis. Perfect for following up specific queries or ensuring future events include the topics students have most frequently asked about.
For more information on how virtual events can help recruit more students, register for Ivent’s free webinar on 10th July @ 11am by visiting
The importance of regular service and maintenance
by Dormakaba’s Paul Wright
“On a typical building the doors and door hardware are among the most heavily used elements. In high-traffic areas such as corridors, door components and operators will be subjected to thousands of open/close cycles a year and potentially millions throughout the life of the product. For this reason, establishing an appropriate and regular service and maintenance schedule is crucial.
“Current Health & Safety legislation require that all automatic doors, barriers and gates are regularly maintained and serviced by trained personnel. To ensure the safe working and security of all types of automated doors it is recommended that maintenance is carried out regularly. The standard recommended frequency for servicing automatic doors is at least once a year (every six months for fire doors).
“If fire doors and manually operated doors are not properly maintained and their performance declines over time, the doors may stick and become difficult to open or fail to close once opened. The consequences of this can range from possible non-compliance with fire and access legislation to serious risks to people and the building itself if a fire door is rendered ineffective in the event of a fire.
“Doors that do not close adequately can also impact on the security of the building. Control over who has access to the building often relies on locks engaging correctly when the door closes. If this does not occur, it may allow unauthorised access or cause inaccuracies in the records of who has entered and exited the building.
“A further function of planned maintenance and servicing is ensuring that the building remains fully accessible to everyone.
If door maintenance is disregarded and the hardware no longer complies, building users in general, and specifically occupants with disabilities, may struggle to open the doors.
“The high level of use to which entrance, delivery and internal doors are subject to, alongside the complexity of meeting health and safety, fire and access legislation, means it is vital to schedule regular service and maintenance. While budgetary constraints may require savings to be made, the immediate cost benefit achieved by postponing maintenance is often out-weighed by the larger cost of additional repair work and even replacement of hardware if doors are neglected.
“At Dormakaba we can plan and arrange such maintenance checks to be carried out in the holiday periods, when students are not on campus to help minimise disruption.”