The 24/7 campus in action

Hannah Oakman headed to the AUDE conference at Exeter University for all the latest in campus developments

If you want to know what’s really happening in the world of university estates and masterplanning on campus, the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) Conference is an obvious place to head.

This year’s event was held at the University of Exeter’s Streatham Campus, a fitting location due to its fabulous Forum building, opened in 2012 to Royal approval. The building, now adjoined to the imposing Great Hall, is now the heart of the campus and built with the notion of ‘student experience’ at its very core. The building, which played host to the conference this year, includes a mix of outside/inside space, including refurbished library, retail and catering outlets along with tech-rich learning spaces.  

AUDE always attracts a high calibre selection of the great and good in university estates. It includes a packed schedule of conference key-notes, smaller discussion groups and seminars, along with plenty of opportunities to network and kick-back with colleagues and old friends. Delegates are keen to learn from best practice and pick up top tips to take back to their own institutions and boost their chances of attracting the best students in the future.

The event began with a warm welcome from Hugh McCann, Exeter University’s very own Director of Estates, before our host Kate Bellingham (of Tomorrow’s World and The Big Bang fame) urged us to discuss and network hard over the next few days.

It’s been the abolition of student number controls that has made the real difference – Professor Sir Steve Smith

We were then treated to a highly informative and, at times, pretty candid talk from Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of University of Exeter. He always impresses with his energy and capacity to regale the audience with anecdotes and astounding facts and figures. Since 2009, the University has invested £680m across campus, with turnover up from £116m in 2005/6 to £339m in the last financial year.

“You have to be able to predict change,” he said. “The very room you are sitting in, our new Alumni Auditorium, was opened in 2012 in anticipation of changes in the student fee structure. But it’s been the abolition of student number controls that has made the real difference.

“Our undergraduate numbers are up 56% in the last three years and university estates are vital to this growth. They are central to our ability to recruit top students – we pay for the research and so we know this is true.”

Sir Steve talked about the importance of globalisation and the global need for high level skills as well as anticipating new growth markets (“The top ten in- demand jobs in 2010 were in industries which did not exist in 2004”).  He also discussed the competition from increased private provision in the sector and how to recruit international students, in light of the worrying decline in the number of students from the Indian sub-continent.

“International students have meant a very different approach – the campus is now under pressure to be open 24/7. The library was really busy on Christmas Day, students often want a coffee at 2am… they demand an estate that is much more responsive to their needs.”

There were further sessions on the development of the Forum building, an interesting three-way perspective from former Exeter Registrar David Allen, the architects Wilkinson Eyre and Exeter’s Director of Transformation James Hutchinson.  The £50m project was prompted by a real need for change, to transform the centre of campus from an old car park and windswept alley to an exciting, artistic home for students – one which has since been referred to as ‘a second cathedral in Exeter’.

The £50m Forum Building

There were a host of further sessions at the conference, with speakers from University of Kent, Kingston University and Exeter City Council, and even former Liberal Democrat Leader Paddy Ashdown. There were also updates on the launch of the AUDE Green Scorecard, whole life BIM and also a tour of the new Living Systems Institute building, where BIM has positively affected the design and construction process.

Aside from the learning options, AUDE also features a large exhibition with every big player in architecture, master planning, build and design you can think of, showcasing a host of amazing projects for higher education, both complete and in the pipeline. 

The event also includes a gala Awards dinner, which rewards achievement across the university estates sector. For a list of the 2016 winners, click here.

We’ve already put the 2017 event in our diaries – set to be held at Manchester Metropolitan University from 10-12 April. It will be interesting to see how another year on, things may have changed on campus even further…


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