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Q&A with AUDE chair outlines aims and thoughts on future development

02 June 2017

PFM magazine contacted the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) Mike Clark, who was appointed to the position of chair at its Annual General Meeting in April.

The questions and Mr Clark's responses are included below.

1 What are the aims of your period as AUDE Chair?

At my recent appointment in April this year, I outlined my following aims:
i. To continue with the ‘professionalisation’ of the AUDE head office, including securing our future financial sustainability and updating the strategic plan;
ii. To support AUDE members and continue to grow our membership beyond our current boundaries; 
iii. To encourage equality and diversity in all that AUDE does.

I have benefited greatly from being the chair-elect and working closely with the Officers and our executive committee over the last year or so and such achievements will be measured against how we continue to develop AUDE as the pre-eminent membership association for university real estate and facilities management professionals.

2 How is the university estate currently developing?

The university estate continues to be a major feature in the marketing of universities and is seen as a key factor as to why students choose the university they do.

Investment continues at record levels and perhaps there is now a need to pause and consider if this can continue?

The Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) recent report on the Financial Health of the Higher Education Sector highlights a number of issues including:
? Significant increases in capital investment are projected. At over £17.8 billion, this represents an average annual investment of £4.5 billion (2015-16 to 2018-19), 51% higher than the previous four-year average. Despite this, nearly a quarter of institutions in the sector are planning to reduce capital expenditure over the forecast period
? Investment in infrastructure is particularly important given that, in July 2015, the sector estimated that it still needed to invest £3.6 billion into its non-residential estate to upgrade it to a sound baseline condition.

The university estate is continuing to work hard to deliver increased value for money and AUDE is committed to supporting this as evidenced in our recent report on Demonstrating HE Efficiency and Effectiveness – AUDE KPIs and Case Studies.

The challenge for the sector remains avoiding the polarisation of the student experience and this can be achieved by having a balanced capital and maintenance investment programme.

3 What are the emerging trends within the development process?

The key area for the sector remains the status of the UK construction market.

In terms of a ‘hard Brexit’, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has indicated that the UK construction sector could lose 8% of its workforce if a hard Brexit results in no access to the single market.

Similar research in London estimates that currently 1 in 4 construction workers are from the European Union. The loss of European workers would impact the industry which is already faced with a severe skills shortage and lack of visible investment in future training.

Simple economics would suggest that labour rates would be forced up by the lack of supply, however a reduction in demand could keep rates down and more than offset the effect of loss of labour.

Such is the scale of the potential skills shortage that the ability of the industry to deliver projects may be threatened and likely lead to longer delivery periods.

Investment in training will give greater domestic resilience to a post Brexit market and should continue to be high on the construction industry agenda.

The impact on the UK HE sector is likely to be significant and universities engaged in major capital programmes are already monitoring the situation very carefully and mitigating the potential impact through appropriate risk management measures.

4 Is the fall in student numbers concerning for the future?

I think what is more of a concern is the fluctuation of student numbers and the pressures this brings on those who use such data for modelling various aspects of the university’s business planning.

We know that in 2012, when fees were trebled, there was a larger decrease in applications to that recently experienced.

This year’s fall appears to have less to do with £9,000 fees than it does with the abolition of NHS bursaries, a decline in the 18-year-old population, Brexit and more worryingly, a continued decline in demand for part-time study – speaking as a student who benefited greatly from the flexibility of part-time study.

5 How can better management of facilities bring benefits to all involved?

The sector will continue to do ‘more with less’ and create innovative solutions for delivering the highest quality of facilities management.

There are major challenges in responding to the increased demand for extended hours opening in terms of the impact this has on established models of cleaning and maintenance as well as ensuring the well-being of those involved in the delivery of such services.

The appetite for working with industry partners remains strong and as the University of Hertfordshire has recently demonstrated that there are still opportunities to work with industry partners to deliver an innovative facilities management contract that benefits both parties.

6 Will the expected reduction in research following Brexit have a significant impact on the university estate?

You have to see this in the wider context of the ‘Brexit’ debate as there are a number of things to consider in terms of making a judgement re: impact on the Estate.

The House of Lords’ Science Committee recently reported that the UK contributed nearly £4.3bn for EU research projects from 2007 to 2013, but received nearly £7bn back over the same period and the £2.7bn excess was equivalent to more than £300m in research funds a year.

Some have even suggested that the end to student quotas could make British students and British universities better off.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) suggested that British universities could increase tuition fee income by £187m in the first year if the Government decides to charge European students the international rate and also claimed that a 10% drop in the price of sterling could lead to around 20,000 additional students. This would raise a further £227m from tuition fees.

The negatives of Brexit are well known - EU nationals may be charged tuition fees at more expensive international rates.

This may mean that a substantial percentage of the student population is deterred from studying at British universities.

Some academics have warned that there is also a danger that British students would risk becoming more ‘insular’ and less exposed to European cultures on the continent through the impact on exchange programmes.

There are fears that pioneering British academics may go abroad and contribute to a ‘brain drain’. In terms of the impact on the university estate, I believe there are a number of potential outcomes:
i. The research intensive universities will continue with their development programmes as they are likely to have a mature investment plan and have already modelled the impact of Brexit; 
ii. If recruitment pressures do ultimately surface within the research intensive universities, then there is a risk that recruitment could be impacted elsewhere in the sector leading to a re-appraisal of development plans at the most affected institutions. Judgements will be made in terms of whether this is seen as a ‘blip’, or something more terminal;
iii. It is possible that some universities may see the benefit of establishing a European campus or creating a formal association with an established university to overcome what could be seen as being the ‘doomsday’ outcome of Brexit!

7 Can the various discussions around workplace wellbeing be further extended by experimentation within universities?

The sector has seen many innovative workplace, learning and teaching environments developed over the last few years and these continue to be developed.

The selection of appropriately qualified design teams can often bring commercial workspace experience to university projects and it is acknowledged that the university estate can benefit from this exposure. There is still a debate to be had around the ‘open-plan’ working environment.

We seem to have moved away from this descriptor to ‘collaborative’ working environments and this has been due more as to how technology continues to impact on the workplace.

The emergence of standards such as The WELL Building Standard, offer alternative ways to measure how buildings are designed, constructed and maintained and how they impact on our health, happiness, mindfulness and productivity in our buildings and communities.

Universities should provide the ideal opportunity for allowing such experimentation to take place and ensure a stable platform for this research to be properly considered.

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