Market survey finds three-quarters of institutions expect estate budgets to remain steady or improve

Oxford university - Zaha Hadid

Despite deep funding cuts, universities are continuing to prioritise investment in their estates, with three-quarters of institutions expecting their estates budget to remain steady or improve and more than half having major construction projects under way, a new market survey has found.

The report by contractor Wates Construction found that 52% of estates directors surveyed said they had major construction projects, worth over £5m on the go, with 40% planning new projects within the next two years.

Three-quarters of respondents listed teaching facilities as a key focus of these major projects.

The report, based on a survey of 42 institutions, said that despite the government’s 2012 funding reforms, in which tuition fees replaced government grants as the largest source of income for most institutions, estates investment was holding up well.

Universities are investing heavily in research facilities for the sciences

Ian Vickers, Wates

The report found that almost a third of UK university estates directors had made improving their teaching and learning facilities their top priority as they look to attract students, and half ranked it among their top three concerns.

The report said 93% of institutions surveyed said they planned to invest significantly in learning facilities, such as libraries, laboratories, communal work and study facilities, while 87% plan to invest in improving core teaching facilities, such as lecture theatres and laboratories.

The report also found that despite major government cuts and expectations of a decline in spending, investment in research facilities remains a strong priority across the sector, with 38% of institutions increasing budgets for research facilities and 59% of estates directors listing research facilities as a key focus of their next major construction project.

According to Office for National Statistics figures, publically-funded university projects were worth £1.2bn in 2011.

Ian Vickers, universities lead for Wates Construction, said: “Universities are investing heavily in research facilities for the sciences, and are setting up ‘hubs’ to encourage greater collaboration with businesses. This is encouraging for higher education and for the UK economy.”