Research finds almost 80% of universities are planning major construction projects in next year

Almost 80% of UK universities are planning a major construction project within the next year as institutions invest in estates in order to attract students, research published this week revealed.

The research, commissioned by contractor Wates, showed that 79% of 52 institutions surveyed are either already carrying out a construction project worth more than £5m, or expect to start one within the next year.

The move, which comes despite budget cuts in the Higher Education sector, appears to be fuelled by increased competition to attract students, particularly given the recent introduction of higher tuition fees.

“Attracting students” was identified by more than half (54%) of respondents as the strongest driver behind their current or next project. Refurbishment was the next highest motivation, with 17% of respondents giving this as a reason behind their projects.

The investment in estates comes despite the fact that 40% of universities have had to put some construction projects on hold due to financial uncertainty, according to the research.

Ian Vickers, university lead for Wates Construction, said: “With public funding cut by 12.6% and applications down by 8.7% for the next academic year, it is a challenging time for the UK’s universities.

“However, our survey shows that many are already on the front foot and are investing in first-class buildings and facilities in order to attract students and talent while improving efficiency and controlling costs.”

About 50% of universities are planning to use their next construction project to make changes to teaching areas, such as lecture halls and amphitheatres. Forty percent said their project would include developments to research facilities, while 33% said it would include student accommodation.

Meanwhile, a third of respondents (32%) are considering large scale commercial tie ups within their estates, such as science parks or hotels, with a further 31% saying they would be open to such a deal in the future.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, UK universities spend an average of £19m on estates every year, of which nearly £8.5m is on new building works.

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