Estates of disrepair: 11 institutions are not up to scratch, says Hefce

Report also points to squeeze on campus as teaching space declines. Hannah Fearn reports

August 20, 2009

A number of universities are allowing their campus buildings to fall into disrepair, a report reveals.

According to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, there are 11 institutions with less than 40 per cent of their non-residential estate in good condition.

Four of those institutions have fallen short of this mark for six years, although Hefce has refused to name them.

"There are still a number of institutions where estate condition remains a fundamental issue," says the report, Performance in Higher Education Estates.

The study, which is based on data from 2006-07, also shows that students and staff are squeezed for space on campus. Although the size of university estates increased by 1 per cent year on year, growth in student numbers saw academic space per student falling by 4.3 per cent.

In the same period, the amount of academic office space fell by 2 per cent despite space for support staff increasing - suggesting that scholars were worst hit.

Paul Cottrell, head of public policy at the University and College Union, said it was "sadly ironic" that students were being asked to pay extra for their university education while being taught in increasingly cramped surroundings.

"This is a classic case of under-funded expansion that can also be witnessed in increasing university places while simultaneously cutting budgets for teaching," he said.

"Similarly, academics must be given the space they need to do their jobs properly. They shouldn't be made to work in decaying buildings."

The Hefce report indicates that overall, the quality of residential buildings declined in the period.

But university income per square metre rose faster than expenditure, "providing institutions with an opportunity to invest more in their estates", the paper says.

It shows that it would cost £3.9 billion to bring the entire sector's estate up to scratch.

Derry Caleb, deputy chair of the Association of University Directors of Estates, said that, despite the concerns raised, the general picture was positive.

"The key point is that there has been a slow but steady improvement in estate condition in recent years. It is a slow process because it is impacted by planning legislation and, for the period in question, an overheated construction market," he said.

In relation to the 11 institutions highlighted by Hefce as having particularly poor infrastructure, he said: "What may appear a below-average investment by a very small number of institutions should not mask the success of the majority."

Mr Caleb also raised concerns that "in harder times, institutions will consider reducing their expenditure on maintenance", adding that this temptation must be resisted.

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