As the University of Hertfordshire approaches the midway point of its ten-year long estates strategy, the university’s director of estates, Andrew May, tells Rosie Niven about how estates are at the forefront of the efficiency agenda at the institution.
1. Are universities making the most of their estates? If not, how could they do more?
There are various strategies for making better use of space that universities are using. They include having lots of alternative uses for space and generating more income from the space that we have. I think the sector is doing well – you only have to look at the report of Professor Sir Ian Diamond and the work of colleagues in the sector and you’ll see that an awful lot is being done in terms of improving the efficiency of the estate. The annual Estates Management Report prepared by AUDE tells a similar story.
You have got to continually improve in estates. If you don’t, you stand still. And if if you stand still it all becomes out of date very quickly. Personally, I am a big believer in change and I subscribe to the notion that there is only one constant in life and that is change.
2. What have been the main challenges for estates at Hertfordshire?
We’ve got three campuses here at Hertfordshire and there are two main campuses, de Havilland and College Lane. The work we are doing on our estate is largely on the College Lane campus because de Havilland was purpose built and opened 10-12 years ago and is already well designed and efficiently used – if you look at our spatial utilisation data, de Havilland scores extremely well.
College Lane is the original 1950s technical college that has grown up over the years and that’s where considerable investment is required.
The Hertfordshire 2020 estates vision is about delivering changes to our estate over a period of ten years 2010 – 2020. If you look at the strategy, what we are trying to do, is respond to the macro changes in higher education – higher fees, less money coming into the system and greater competition with the lifting of the cap on student numbers – and deliver better facilities so that we can give students better value and we are investing in both our academic estate and our residential estate.
The trick is how do you do that with limited financial resources because we live in times of austerity and have come through arguably one the biggest recessions on record. The 2020 estates vision aims to respond to those changes in a sustainable way. Importantly, we are investing heavily in our estate without borrowing any money.
3. How does the efficiency agenda relate to your role?
The efficiency agenda within the University of Hertfordshire is a big agenda and estates is at the forefront, frankly. This prominence partly reflects the fact that we have one of the biggest budgets and is partly because as a professional unit, we are able to be more creative with our thinking and more lateral with our approach. It relates to how we can use our estate better, how can we reduce our total property costs and at the same time generate more income.
I’ve been in post now for five years. The total property cost for running our estate has been reduced by more than £3m per annum. Here at Hertfordshire, in estates, we are effectively the delivery vehicle for driving the efficiency agenda.
4. What has been your biggest achievement at Hertfordshire in terms of efficiency in estates?
It’s a combination of measures all centred around driving service improvement while saving money. We have completely re-engineered the way we deliver services and the approach we take to the delivery of services.
The service delivery has got better and we are saving £4m per annum, so we are improving the services whilst saving money. In addition to the estates capital strategy, we have an efficiency and effectiveness strategy which is about improving the service whilst saving money. If you look at our total property costs you see a dramatic downward curve.
5. Are there any projects at other institutions that you particularly admire?
I think there is some excellent work that goes on around the sector. If you look at some creative, innovative buildings, there is the new engineering building that Sheffield’s doing and the big ticket masterplans that might be going on at Cambridge and University College London. Equally, from a sustainability perspective, there is really good stuff out there to reduce energy bills and lower our carbon footprint. Also, others are leading the way in services provision and innovation.
There is also some work about enhancing the student experience – looking at how students want to live, learn and grow in a 21st century environment. It isn’t necessarily about pile ‘em high, stack ‘em deep in lecture theatres, it’s about informal learning, tutorials and informal teaching space.
There is some really powerful stuff going on in the sector that the younger generation are really responding to positively. If I was to single anything out, it would be the work enhancing the student experience.
At Hertfordshire, we’ve created a 12,000 sq ft informal learning zone right next door to the reception. When a visitor arrives they get greeted with a 21st century welcome to the UK’s leading business-facing university environment and that is next door the the informal learning space where students are doing their own tutorials and working on laptops and ipads.
At the other end of the campus we’ve co-located our student facing services and created a hub of student activities a fantastic environment for students to live, work and grow informally. There is a combination of things that are happening across the sector, all of which are about responding to the macro changes in higher education. You wouldn’t recognise this place from five years ago.
6. What is the best part of your job?
I joined Hertfordshire because it had a particular problem and I had a set of skills that I thought was part of the solution and that has proved to be the case. I love the freedom they give me to express myself, and the responsibility and empowerment and support they give me to make things happen.
Fundamentally at Hertfordshire, we want to make a difference to students’ lives and I think we are at the forefront of making that happen.
Picture credit: Casey Gutteridge/Archant.