At the end of March, AUDE (the Association of University Directors of Estates) hosted its Annual Conference at Warwick University, bringing together Directors of Estates and Facilities from universities across the UK.
In line with its aims of supporting members to run university estates so that they are professional, innovative, efficient and effective; the AUDE conference provided an opportunity for members to come together and share best practice through networking opportunities and a stellar line-up of speakers.
We spoke to some of the speakers, delegates and exhibitors.
Dr Paul Greatrix, Registrar, University of Nottingham - Speaker
What do you think the future of higher education is?
I think we face a challenging future in this country for many years to come. First and foremost there are the resourcing questions, but there is also greater competition between institutions and greater competition for international students. Changes in the government regulatory environment mean we operate in an ever more challenging and complex situation so securing the long term sustainability of our organisations is the biggest challenge of all.
What do you think the future of higher education is not?
I don't think it is all online. There are people who say that the bricks and mortar of traditional universities are old hat and will be swept away by an online avalanche or tsunami. It absolutely isn't that.
What are the traps of falling foul to ill-advised speculation?
I think some of the traps are financial – institutions can potentially be seduced into ill-advised financial arrangements or can over speculate and extend too far in terms of investment predicated on future income streams. I think there is also a risk of universities not being true to themselves. Being too easily swayed by fashion or short term opportunities which cause them to diverge from their strategy is the biggest danger.
What does all this mean for Directors of Estates and Facilities?
I think that Directors of Estates and Facilities have an absolutely critical role to play in ensuring the sustainability of institutions but also in securing high quality estates to ensure that students get the learning resources that they need and that staff get an environment in which they can undertake the best possible research and teaching. They are the people who ensure that universities provide a welcoming 21st century environment for the best possible teaching and research. That is ultimately what they are about, and our Estates Directors do a fantastic job in making that happen.
Louise Daville, Head of Business Development Strategic Projects, Interserve Construction - Exhibitor
What are you exhibiting here?
We've taken a stand at the AUDE conference to showcase our construction offering in the UK – small minor works programmes through to refurbishment and new build schemes – anything up to £150 million.
Have you been to an AUDE conference before?
We've taken space at the AUDE conference four or five times and we have always found it very useful for making contacts.
If so, what benefits were there of exhibiting?
The AUDE conference is a great chance to get access to people who it takes longer to get appointments with over the course of the year, because all the key decision makers are in the room.
What are your views on the higher education sector?
The higher education sector is quite a big sector for Interserve, with 16% of our business being in the education market. It's quite a competitive area now that students have to pay so much to go to university. Obviously it's important for universities to get the students through the door, so it's an exciting sector to be working with. Lots of universities are looking at their campuses and redevelopment projects. More and more, it's about attracting new students in by having the best facilities. Increasingly there is a strong desire from students to go to universities with the best facilities, as well as fantastic curriculums.
What's your view of the role Directors of Estates and Facilities play in universities?
I guess it's quite a tough role. They have to work to tight budgets, keep the existing campuses going while attracting new students in. It's a difficult time in terms of austerity with some universities having more money to spend than others, depending on the courses they offer. But I imagine it's quite an interesting job as well, to maximize the facilities that they have got, and to keep things going.
How can universities maximize commercial relationships?
A lot of things are tendered competitively and go through a competitive dialogue process, which is fair. However, universities can have more access to industry and suppliers, and look at more partnering arrangements to get the best out of commercial relationships.
What have you gained from attending this conference?
So far the conference has provided a great chance to raise awareness of Interserve and gain access to people who are usually quite difficult to get hold of as they are so busy on a day to day basis.
Mary Vosevich, Director, Physical Plant Department, University of New Mexico and current president for APPA (North America) - International guest
What does APPA do?
APPA is about leadership in education facilities. We are an international organization for facilities professionals in education primarily in North America.
What do you hope to get out of attending the AUDE conference?
The beauty of conferences like these is the opportunity for networking and finding out what's going on at other institutions. It's great to find out about best practices and challenges that we are all facing and to talk about megatrends that we are seeing in higher education.
What value does APPA get out of its strategic partnership with AUDE?
We really value our strategic partnerships and AUDE is one that we have had for many, many years. Exchanging ideas and entering into opportunities with each other is important. For example, we're having discussions about how we can share publications and the tools we could use to do this. We're also looking into facilities performance indicators that all our international strategic partners could use. APPA has a tool to measure facilities performance. We do this annually so that we can benchmark ourselves against other institutions, and look at our own data to find opportunities to improve, be more efficient and more effective in our work. Working on opportunities like these together can yield great benefits for our organisations.
What similarities/differences do you see between the estates sector in the UK and in North America?
I'm trying to get a grasp of the higher education funding model that you have here, asking students to pay more. We see this as well to some degree – we have tuition increases almost annually at our universities. We've experienced the same budget cuts that the universities here have experienced, some quite dramatic. We also struggle with enrolment, and diversity and are also challenged with accountability. There's a higher demand and request for accountability so that gives us pause to think about how we're going to report what we do to the appropriate authorities that want to have that information.
What learnings will you take back in terms of benefit to your APPA?
One thing that I will take back is that we are all facing the same challenges. This presents an opportunity to work more closely with our international partners to try and come up with some of the solutions to the challenges we're all faced with. We're a global economy now so we can start sharing information with each other at the click of a button.
Neal Deans, Joint Director of Estates and Facilities St George's University of London and St George's NHS Heathcare Trust - First time AUDE attendee
How long have you been working in the sector?
I've been doing the joint role for just six months. Before then I had been in the NHS for 25 years, the last eight years as the Director of Estates and Facilities for St George's Heathcare NHS Trust. In September I moved into a joint role so am now also Director of Estates and Facilities for St George's University of London, as well as the healthcare trust. This makes sense because the university and the healthcare trust share the same site.
What did you need when you first took up your job?
My biggest challenge was in trying to understand what the key drivers were in the higher education sector, as opposed to the healthcare sector.
How does AUDE assist you in your role?
One of the first things I've noticed is the AUDE chatroom, where people are really open and honest in asking for information and providing it. We're not quite like that in the healthcare sector – we're a bit more competitive, especially the London hospitals. It seems like there might be more collaboration in the higher education sector, which is great.
What do you think of the conference?
It's been excellent. The quality of the speakers has been outstanding. Especially for somebody like me who is new to the sector, it's spot on in explaining what some of the issues are.
What is the value of AUDE membership to you?
Access to information, colleagues and realising you're not on your own in trying to resolve some of these issues. Support, that's the main thing.