Hot property

Keri Beckingham discovers the latest developments in university estates and looks at some of this year’s best estates improvements

When it comes to developing their campuses and building new facilities, there’s a lot for university estates managers to consider in order to provide the best experience for students and staff. From infrastructure, right through to ensuring that buildings are easily accessible and meet green standards, it takes a lot of planning to create a project that ticks all of the boxes. So with that in mind, what trends and challenges are they currently facing and what can they learn from the experiences of other institutions?

What’s trending?

The Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) publishes an annual Estates Management Report which gives an in-depth look at the estates management trends within UK HE. The most recent report (published in October 2017) found that although the overall university estate has grown by half a million square metres during the last three years, it is being managed at no additional cost. In addition, despite an increase in operational cost and size of estate, management and maintenance costs remain stable at £2bn per year (for the third consecutive year.)

Commenting on the findings of the report, Sir Ian Diamond, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen said: “The university estate is today, so much more than it has ever been. Universities will continue to evolve and be dynamic in the face of changing demographics, funding and political upheaval, and directors of estates will strive to provide excellence in facilities alongside world-class education.”

What makes a great estate?

Helen Groves is Technical Director and Architect at SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business. She has 20 years’ experience in designing education buildings, including within HE, and believes that a great estate is a place that is designed around people and their needs. She added: “It’s about designing buildings, and the spaces between them, so that people are at their very heart. It’s not about creating a brand or an icon; it’s about responding to students’ needs and wellbeing and making spaces where people feel they belong.”

An estate supporting the core ambitions of the University is crucial. Students and colleagues should be provided with learning environments which promote modern and contemporary pedagogical approaches which are conducive to effective learning

The University of the West of Scotland has recently completed its brand-new £110m Lanarkshire campus, which was built to encourage new ways of working and welcomes its first cohort in September. Commenting on what they believe makes their estate great, Trevor Gabriele, Lanarkshire Campus Project Sponsor and Chief Finance Officer said: “An estate supporting the core ambitions of the University is crucial. Students and colleagues should be provided with learning environments which promote modern and contemporary pedagogical approaches which are conducive to effective learning.

A great estate should, therefore, support flexible learning by integrating innovative technology into creative and social spaces which are efficient and sustainable – helping to create a top-class learning and working experience

Today’s challenges

Jane White, Executive Director of AUDE believes the main challenges facing university estates teams today are ensuring their institutions provide the best student experience at the most affordable cost and transforming their facilities to meet the demands of 24-hour learning environments. Discussing this further, she said: “There is immense complexity in a university estate, and a wide range of stakeholders to bring onboard with the estates vision – from students and academics to local authorities and industry partners.”

David Bigland is Managing Director of floor designers Moduleo UK and Eire. Through his work with universities, he believes that future planning plays a critical role in successful estates projects. He said: “The University of Exeter, along with its local authorities, identified a problem of future overpopulation and the University is working to resolve the issue with new properties. Had this problem been identified at a later stage, it would be very difficult to rectify the issue.

Future planning should be considered from the initial stage of a project right through to the end. 

Making progress 

Helen Groves thinks that the focus on wellbeing has, and will continue to be, the number one focus for universities when it comes to planning their campus redevelopments. Commenting further, she said: “It’s now recognised that the environment plays a huge part in people’s sense of ownership and belonging and we as designers can really influence this.”

There’s also more focus on green environments as a university’s eco-friendly credentials can impact on a prospective student’s choice

David Bigland has also seen an increase in demand for flexible working and a desire to utilise green initiatives. He said: “Many universities now provide not only a dedicated library space, but also co-working spaces to be used for independent learning, group work, society meetings and much more. Universities are blurring the lines between academic and extra-curricular spaces to maximise both their estate and budgets.

Case studies – A round-up of recent estates improvements


In 2015, the University of Central Lancashire announced its intention to transform its Preston Campus through a £200m Masterplan development.

Within three years, the construction of two new £8.15m social spaces has already been completed, enabling staff and students to come together in a relaxed environment. The new spaces, officially opened in early 2018, were designed by award-winning architecture practice AHR, and were developed in conjunction with the Students’ Union.

Construction of the University’s £32m Engineering Innovation Centre (EIC) is also underway. Opening in 2019, the state-of-the-art facility will further establish the University as a leader in engineering innovation and will help produce hundreds of additional locally trained graduates per year in areas including aerospace, mechanical and energy technologies and engineering.

Michael Ahern, Chief Operating Officer at UCLan, said: “It’s exciting to see the building taking shape before our very eyes. The EIC will be a real asset to the University and the region, bringing enormous educational and economic benefits now and for generations to come. As an organisation dedicated to driving improvements to the community as well as our students, we are committed to delivering a first-class facility of which Preston can be proud.”

Bournemouth University

The Atkins-designed landmark Poole Gateway Fusion Building will be the new home of the University’s Faculty of Science & Technology and the Faculty of Media & Communication. It will also be used by the Faculty of Management and the wider student body. Work has already begun on the major £22m project, with the campus expected to be open for student use in January 2020.

The building incorporates both formal teaching spaces, practical skills and general teaching, informal or social learning areas, as well as a small research facility and shared learning resource centre. There will be facilities for TV (live and post production), audio studios, sound editing labs, media production spaces, green screen with motion-capture suite, PC and Mac laboratories and cross-faculty collaboration spaces.

Commenting on the work that SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business has completed at Bournemouth University, Helen Groves said: “For one it is transforming itself and reinventing the concept of what a campus is for. They’re focusing on the landscape and spaces between buildings to create a holistic campus experience for staff and students.”

Leeds Beckett University

Earlier this year, work started on Leeds Beckett University’s new £80m Creative Arts building, which will be home to the University’s School of Film, Music and Performing Arts, and fashion department. In addition, the University is also planning a new £45m Carnegie Teaching and Research (CTAR) building at their Headingley campus, and has recently refurbished a number of its existing buildings.

Commenting further, Tom McGovern, Projects Communications Officer for Estates Services, said: “Over the next five years we will be investing £200m in campus developments, which covers a wide range of projects across both our city campus and our Headingley campus. These are significant developments to enhance and improve the infrastructure, and provide modern and state-of-the-art facilities for our students, staff and partners.”

Leave a Reply

Send an Invite...

Would you like to share this event with your friends and colleagues?