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Sector Focus: Higher Education

The latest Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey, which reveals the views of 13,000 students around the UK, provides the university sector with a valuable insight into what undergraduates consider important when making university choices. Of the 21 categories against which universities were rated, seven relate to campus buildings and their management, including the quality of accommodation, sports facilities and libraries, as well as bar and retail amenities and security.

These results could help the Higher Education (HE) sector focus its funding priorities in what is rapidly becoming a free market with universities competing for students as never before. With undergraduates quoting the ‘student experience’ as high on their list of reasons to choose a particular university, rather than simply their chosen course, this is pause for thought. What these findings prove is something that university estates directors are well aware of: that the HE estates function, virtually invisible to the public eye, has a clear and direct role to play in enhancing the everyday lives of students.

Sector Focus: Higher Education

Carbon management: all stick, no carrot?

With the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) obligations looming, how are universities approaching the issue of carbon management?

CRC image_L

Tied to the need to tackle climate change and improve energy efficiency, carbon management is now an integral part of environmental strategy and is mandatory for English universities under Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) funding rules. The aim is to encourage the HE sector to take a structured approach to reducing its carbon footprint by cutting energy use and emissions and embedding this into long-term strategy. By documenting future measures to save energy, university departments should be able to calculate accurately how much money such measures will save.
With universities qualifying for the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme, which begins trading carbon allowances this April, carbon management should be a useful tool to help universities reduce overheads and increase operational efficiency while meeting both their statutory and ethical obligations.

This all sounds good on paper but the reality may not be so straightforward. Now facing twin pressure from the funding bodies on the one hand and the CRC on the other, one estates director at an English University says he finds himself between a rock and a hard place: obliged to make reductions in emissions and energy use but lacking the resources to do so.

In Scotland the situation is slightly different. CRC still applies but the Scottish Funding Council is not mandating carbon management directly linked to funding. The Scottish Universities and Colleges have signed up to their own climate change commitment in which they pledge to reduce their environmental impact but without the financial pressure being leveraged against their English counterparts. Says Jim McConnell, University of Glasgow Director of Estates: “It is true that we are under less direct pressure to improve environmental performance from our funding body as we already have Scottish Government targets. However, carbon management is being incorporated into everything that we do, which means considering carbon reduction whenever property-related decisions are made.” He believes that many universities are “starting at ground zero” and the biggest challenge for the sector in future will be to tackle the problem of managing carbon in facilities which in many cases must be accessible, secure and fully operational 24 hours a day.

For further information contact Mark Few, Director in Watts’ London office on 020 7280 8000.

The Watts Bulletin is the technical companion to the Watts Pocket Handbook, the essential guide to property and construction, as used by professionals since 1983.

Watts Bulletin editor: Trevor Rushton.