University estates income becoming ‘harder and harder’ to maintain

But in an increasingly competitive market, new AUDE executive officer praises ‘entrepreneurial’ estates departments

January 11, 2016
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Source: Alamy
Room to manoeuvre: ‘effective use of space’ tops sector priorities, report finds

Some university estates departments may need to work much harder to pull in income and justify their institutions spending large amounts of money to improve facilities.

That is the view of Jane White, executive officer at the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE), who added that despite a period of success for university estates, which saw income increase by £1 billion in 2013-14, institutions will be required to perform better in challenging times.

Universities have continued to invest heavily in their estates, with capital expenditure up 25 per cent to £2.5 billion in the past year. But although AUDE’s members were “extraordinarily proud of their achievements”, Ms White said, they could not rest on past success.

The body’s annual statistics report, released in November, detailed which universities were performing well in bringing in income from estates. “It’s a document [estates managers] use when they go back to their universities to ask for funding, whether it’s investment in capital projects or maintenance or facilities or development or energy management,” she said.

But she warned that senior university managers would also be able to see from the report if their estates departments were towards the bottom of the income statistics. “It’s a big issue and some will see how they perform, and if it’s on the lower end, they’re going to need to [improve].”

Ms White added that although recent UK government policy announcements had made estates departments breathe a “collective sigh of relief” over university funding, the ability for the estates sector “to continue performing” in the way it had was “going to become harder and harder”.

“Things like the Nurse Review...and the issues with overseas students, are all going to be challenging and will affect the estates departments,” she said. “Some will rise to that challenge and some will find it a lot more difficult. I do think they’ll need to continue to be very savvy in how they operate.”

However, she said universities were proving “entrepreneurial” in maintaining estates income, something borne out in a recent AUDE member survey that showed “effective use of space” topping the list of priorities.

Ms White said environmental issues were also “massively important” for AUDE at a time when universities are under pressure to improve their sustainability efforts. A damning assessment last year by consultancy Brite Green suggested that many would fail to meet carbon reduction targets.

She said the body was in the process of developing tools for their members to help “look at how they’re improving and where improvements can be made” in environmental terms.

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