UK Higher Education is in very rude health, how can estates and facilities teams help keep it there? Part 2: Our thoughts and recommendations

Our previous blog highlighted that no matter how you look at it, all measures suggest UK Higher Education is in very good health. But there are risks, and we identified the storm clouds on the horizon to which HEIs will need to respond if they are to maintain this success.

Overall, HE estates and facilities departments will be under increasing pressure to justify their existence, deliver better value for money and improve the impact of investment in real estate and Facilities Management services.

We set out below our advice for HE estates and facilities teams to do just this. In short, you should build an estates masterplan and strategy, then work out how you’ll deliver great experiences. Identify where to save and where to invest, and plan for the likely future.


1. Build an estates masterplan and strategy

This will identify how to leverage added value from your real estates and physical assets.

  • Consolidate your HEI’s faculty or department business plans in terms of student numbers, research etc. Applying space norms and diversity to these plans will give you a space plan for your whole HEI.
  • Map out the student and staff experience you want to deliver.
  • Next, compare these future requirements with what you’ve got at present, by conducting a space audit and asset verification/condition study. The space audit should look at both availability and utilisation.
  • Then map your existing spaces and their conditions to allow you to create your estates masterplan to deliver your objectives. The masterplan will define which space/buildings to retain, invest in, repurpose or divest.

Typically, an estates masterplan with a ten-year horizon outlining phasing, with a firmer three to five year plan outlining actual investment, will help you deliver a balanced response to a changing and dynamic market.

Your masterplan can then be supported by a Facilities Management strategy which defines the operating model to deliver exceptional hard FM (which optimises real estate whole life value) and soft FM services (which optimises student/staff experience).


2. Work out how you’ll deliver great experiences.

Start with facts and feedback. Estates professionals have a range of stakeholder groups to serve including students, teaching and research staff, collaborators and partners, the public, and other parties.

There is a wealth of data and insight into student expectation and experiences such as the National Student Survey and Higher Education Design Quality Forum’s student research.

A smaller amount of data typically exists for staff and other stakeholders, so it is helpful for you to survey staff and other stakeholders’ expectations and perceptions of experience at least annually.

Reviewing this feedback will identify what service basics to deliver and in which areas and what ways service can be improved. This feedback will also provide insight into how to configure physical spaces and services to deliver great student/staff experiences. Invest in a map of student and staff touchpoints with your estates and facilities function – this will allow you to articulate how you want these groups to experience your services. Continuously seek feedback on how people perceive the services so you can identify the areas that make the biggest improvements.


3. Identify where to save and where to invest.

Delivering value for money and making every pound work as hard as possible is ever more important for HE. Typically, space is poorly utilised in the HE sector compared to other sectors. By accurately measuring space use, you will identify areas that can be more efficiently used or repurposed.

By moving to a smaller, more intensively used estate, you can allocate a larger investment per m2 of floor space to improve learning, teaching and research environments and support services. Be clear about which buildings are utilised out of term time and, if not, are they taken out of service?

Utility use can typically be reduced using invest-to-save cases to reduce energy demand and annual bills. We strongly recommend you benchmark your FM and contract resource use and spend – it’s a quick way to identify opportunities to improve performance and reduce costs. Review your asset performance to optimise capital and operational cost savings, which will also improve the whole life cost of your estate.

As well as maintaining a safe and secure campus for students and staff, we now see HEIs taking responsibility for both physical and mental wellbeing. It is possible to design and reconfigure existing buildings, campuses and estates to improve performance and wellbeing. Estates professionals can help HEIs fulfil this growing obligation by ensuring investment in the estate supports wellbeing.


4. Plan for the likely future.

The pace of competition and technological change is accelerating in HE, as it is elsewhere. Increased competition and inflation are likely to reduce available funding for estates and facilities which means doing the right things, effectiveness and efficiency are more and more important. The application of technology, AI, machine learning and IoT (Internet of Things) will improve but also disrupt both teaching and the management of buildings. Examples might be IoT for cleaning and optimisation of indoor environment and machine learning for space optimisation to deliver further service improvements and cost saving opportunities.

Planning for the likely future requires a blend of strategy, stakeholder management, and ground level operations. A detailed look at planning for the likely future is beyond the scope of this article, however we intend to cover this topic in a subsequent article.


In conclusion, estates and facilities professionals have a huge opportunity to maintain and improve the performance of HEIs by improving student and staff experience and making every pound spent go further. The application of well thought through and joined up estates and facilities plans will strengthen HEI offerings and competitive positions and help maintain the sector in its current rude health.

We have produced a handy ultimate guide full of tips and advice for improving your HE estate and optimising HEI performance.


Download our guide to improving HE performance through estates management


This blog is based on the keynote presentation that John gave at the University Estates and Facilities Conference at the University of Salford on Wednesday 26 June 2019. Click here for a link to the slides. 

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