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Universities plan major construction projects

Two-fifths of universities plan to start major construction projects in the next two years, according to new research by Wates.

The effects of government policy on university estates strategies study found that more than 90 per cent of institutions plan to invest significantly in learning facilities, such as libraries, laboratories and communal study areas.

A total of 87 per cent intend to improve their core teaching facilities, including lecture theatres and laboratories.

Of those surveyed, 40 per cent said they were planning to start work on major construction projects worth more than £5m within the next two years.

Wates also found an increased sense of optimism among university estates directors about their future building plans.

Almost a third of university estates directors expected their overall budget to increase in 2013/14, while just under half expected there to be little or no change in their funding for construction work.

Wates universities lead Ian Vickers said universities were increasingly investing in research facilities, with almost 60 per cent of estates directors listing research facilities as a primary focus of their next major construction project – a 20-point increase on last year.

Among the contractor’s university wins in recent months was its appointment in March to build the University of Exeter’s new £30m Living Systems building.

The project was procured through the Construction Framework South West, the largest project to date to have been awarded through the framework.

Mr Vickers said: “Nowadays, estates strategies must be carefully crafted to align with students’ needs and expectations of a good, useful education that will equip them to succeed in the wider world.

“Our research reveals that, as they deal with a whole variety of competing demands, estates directors must go back to basics: focusing on teaching and learning.”

Since the funding reforms last year, student fees are now the largest source of income for universities in England and Wales, leading to greater competition for students.

“Attracting and retaining students is of paramount importance to a university’s continued financial health, and estates strategies must be geared towards addressing this fact,” Mr Vickers added.

“However, universities seem to be isolated in driving things forward on this front – they need real support from government and business.”

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