That taste for luxury

April 3, 1998

Well-heeled executives are feeding the coffers of Britain's booming business schools. Francis Beckett investigates

The rest of higher education may be feeling the pinch, but business schools are still throwing up expensive new buildings. And they occasionally sound just a little self-satisfied about their ability to do so.

"We have funded all our building ourselves," says Ray Wild, director of Henley Management College, which, like many top business schools, is housed in an elegant old building in the heart of the countryside. "We receive no Higher Education Funding Council money at all," he adds. "Most higher education institutions receive a good deal of funding council money,but seem to have much more difficulty in achieving financial stability than we do."

One reason is that most higher education institutions cannot attract well-heeled executives for short courses. Henley's money has gone not into providing for more students, but into providing greater luxury. Professor Wild says: "We are responding to the need to continually update and upgrade our facilities. People have higher expectations. We are competing with intercontinental hotels. We need a larger number of smaller conference rooms, we need more dining rooms.

"It's not to do with growing the business on this site, which we would not be allowed to do anyway because this is a listed building. After spending Pounds 4.8 million, we have slightly fewer bedrooms than we had before." Sponsorship provided Pounds 2 million of the money - Powergen paid Pounds 500,000 for a new library - and the building programme started in 1994 and ended two months ago.

For much the same reasons, Ashridge Management College's elegant old pile in the heart of rural Hertfordshire gets about Pounds 1 million spent on it every year. Each of its 173 bedrooms gets thoroughly renovated about every seven years at a cost of more than Pounds 10,000 each, and a new kitchen last year cost Pounds 300,000. London Business School, meanwhile, expects to raise Pounds 24 million. It will increase its working space by 30 per cent, and is building a new library and a fully equipped health and fitness centre, as well as bedrooms and offices.

One of LBS's fine Regency buildings, in Sussex Place, will be carefully restored to its original style, bringing back the fireplaces, to turn it into a luxury small-scale conference facility. The bedrooms will be - as LBS puts it - "upgraded to a standard appropriate for senior managers participating in high-level executive education programmes". The building will also help "to recruit world-class faculty". Another elegant building, that of Cambridge's business school, the Judge Institute of Management Studies, has been totally refurbished inside with Pounds 8 million provided by industrialist Sir Paul Judge and Pounds 5 million from the Monument Trust. It is now looking for another Pounds 3.5 million for a new library, Pounds 1 million to develop its sixth floor as a separate department, and a modest Pounds 30,000 for a roof garden.

Last year Leeds University's school of business and economic studies changed its name to Leeds University Business School and announced a Pounds 15 million development. Intending to become a top business school, it naturally requires a period house, and has bought the 1857 Grade II listed building, which until recently housed Leeds Grammar School. The newly refurbished site will be open in mid-1999. The prestige project is designed to confirm that LUBS is, as its publicity claims, "Britain's most upwardly mobile business school".

But not everyone can have listed buildings. Lancaster University's management school has put Pounds 1.8 million into creating a graduate school of management, gaining study space for 460 students by concentrating new building on high-quality teaching rooms and a doctoral study area. A four-storey extension makes, they say, "a statement" about the school. The money is to come from increasing the number of students by a third over five years. Four years into the plan, Lancaster is 3 per cent ahead of target.

New developments at the universities of Nottingham and Kingston are designed largely, though not entirely, to house their business schools. Nottingham's Pounds 50 million new campus, due to open in October next year, will house its school of management and finance as well as schools of computer science and education, teaching space and halls of residence. Kingston is spending Pounds 12 million on accommodation for business, law, education and health care studies.

The federation formed by four Manchester business schools in April l994 will soon have solid substance in a new Pounds 7 million building, part of a Pounds 24 million building programme.

A new building will house the Manchester school of management, which is the biggest department of University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. The other three partners are linked by a bridge across the road. They are all constituent parts of Manchester University: Manchester Business School, the school of accountancy and finance, and policy research in engineering, science and technology (PREST).

A Pounds 10 million Sheffield Hallam Business and Information Technology Centre, and a Pounds 1.8 million development at Durham University Business School, are both partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Warwick Business School will start work this autumn on a new Pounds 2.7 million building and proposes to spend a further Pounds 13 million after the turn of the decade. Other expanding business schools include those in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Loughborough and Birmingham universities.

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