With research showing students value facilities almost as highly as courses themselves, universities need to choose carefully where to invest
The Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) has this month conducted some research with students to find out what influences their choice of choosing a university. Unsurprisingly course comes out top, but a very close second is the facilities that the university provides. The research also highlighted that 90% of students said that they felt their HE institution was being well looked after and cited the library and IT facilities as the top university resources that they used most. Sports facilities and the students union also factored highly with nearly 30% of students saying that they used both of those the most.
For AUDE this is great news and validation that even though the HE sector is facing unprecedented change and budget restrictions, we continue to take care of and invest in our facilities to meet demand in an environment where there is greater competition between institutions to attract students, both nationally and internationally. Changes in Government policy mean we operate in an ever more complex environment, so it’s encouraging for us to see students appreciate that we continue to provide excellent estate management for our institutions.
Talking to directors of estates who are members of AUDE I know that often we are performing a balancing act between the substantial budgetary restraints the last few years of austerity have placed on us and still investing in developing facilities and maintaining growth in the sector, and there is clear evidence that universities are continuing to spend. Not only are they looking to refurbish existing facilities but 50% of expenditure on estates is being spent on new build space.
Talking to directors of estates who are members of AUDE I know that often we are performing a balancing act between the substantial budgetary restraints the last few years of austerity have placed on us and still investing in developing facilities and maintaining growth in the sector, and there is clear evidence that universities are continuing to spend.
Despite all these pressures from government cuts, student expectations and increased running costs AUDE members have managed to keep expenditure across the sector relatively stable at around £1,610m combined spend on facilities for the last three years.
The university estate is core to enabling the delivery of the academic mission, so it’s key that Directors of Estates make sure they get this right. There is a clear link between the buildings and accommodation on offer at a university and the desirability of that establishment to potential students. With the HE sector becoming increasingly a buyer’s market – more choice for students who are paying increasing tuition fees – directors of estates always have to keep students at the forefront of their decision making. However, this is only one side of the coin, in light of slowing growth development projects have to be both value for money and state of the art to attract students and keep up with the sector on an international level.
The outlook for the sector is more volatile and uncertain then it has been for some time; however what is certain is that with students expecting the highest quality facilities, universities will have to continue investing in their estates and facilities – particularly if they are going to meet the higher standards expected from students.
Mark Swindlehurst is the chairman of the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) and Director of Facilities at Lancaster University