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2016 preview: Higher education

There has been a lot of press on the value of the higher education sector and continuous investment into UK university estates.

This trend is set to continue through 2016, with a number of significant schemes coming to site, along with numerous ongoing campus redevelopment plans progressing.

Improving student life

In 2015 government control of student numbers was abolished and with institutions now able to set their own recruitment targets, the need to improve the student experience is further emphasised.

Among others, the University of Birmingham is developing a new parkland in the centre of the university’s campus, known as the Green Heart project, which will open up the centre of the campus for students, staff and the local community to enjoy.

Many of our higher education clients are talking about competition for students and staff, improving energy efficiency and maximising the efficiency of their estates.

“We were recently informed of some delays to capital works plans due to public sector cuts and more significantly an unexpected fall in overseas student applications”

Underpinning many growth plans is the need for more student residences, and we are currently working on such projects for University of Warwick, Royal Holloway University of London and Coventry University.

At Sweett Group, we are seeing a number of collaborative research-based facilities between higher education institutes and partners such as the NHS.

We have a £18m research facility commencing on site early next year, which is funded by University College London and the Medical Research Council.

We also anticipate a new-build Bio-Medical Engineering Hub to commence, which is a joint development between University College London and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.

Capital works delays

There remain some real challenges ahead for the sector. Capital works plans have recently been delayed due to public sector cuts, while there has also been an unexpected fall in overseas student applications. But it remains to be seen whether these are blips or gathering trends.

What is certain is that the number of students available to the sector will fall, which will continue for the next seven to eight years, meaning that universities will be competing for students from a smaller pool in the medium term.

The pipeline remains strong, with sizeable investment plans recently announced by University of Glasgow and London School of Economics, together with many institutes maintaining annual capital expenditure and in some cases exceeding £100m a year in the medium term.

David Keith is operations director at Sweett Group

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