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Universities still need buildings

19th February 2016


University Square2

Tony’s insights:

After spending the past decade working as a consultant in Higher Education in Australia and across the globe, it has become apparent that the broad-based teaching and research based university model, supported by asset intensive and large in-house, is fast becoming a thing of the past. Organisations with traditional thinking around their alignment of assets and students need to change their models or become white elephants being driven toward extinction or amalgamation to survive.

Reduced cash flows, contestability of funding, competing Government priorities and globalisation of education is significantly altering the way Education is being delivered and is driving institutions to change their delivery processes.

To survive, the University model are needing to shift from the 1000 year old Bologna model to merge with new markets that are responsive to the fast evolving industry need. This means adapting rapidly to change in areas of technology, social media, analytics, innovation and asset management and delivery. We are already seeing areas of 'disruption' in the sector and this will only increase.

“Current university models are living on borrowed time in Australia. Government funding is tight and is going to be tighter still in the next couple of political cycles,” reported Ernst and Young’s Education Director.  “While they are not exactly businesses, they will have to run like businesses. They need to be lean and mean.” It should not be a surprise that in this Internet age, that companies like Google are going to be the biggest competitor to Universities. This will mean a rethink for content delivery in terms of space and time.

This does provide opportunity for Asset Managers and Campus Planners.

Even though the model has to – and will - change, the physical campus will still be with us for many decades to come; for two very important reasons.

  1. We are social animals, and despite all the technology advances available to us, we still need to interact with each other. This means spatial requirements and facilities. Just as Facebook and Twitter have not stopped people congregating in public places to socialise, online education won’t mean students will stop going to a university space to learn. Students still need to gather.
  2. I doubt we will ever get rid of the Vice Chancellor “Edifice” or “Legacy” Complex. Universities will continue to compete to attract students and academics by building ever more impressive facilities.

To this end the management of assets and infrastructure will be more important and the ability of Executives to “sweat the assets” to their maximum potential and extend their lives with a reduction in funding, will become ever more important.

Students will still be at the centre of this new ‘architecture’, and ‘online learning’ heralds a new way business model. However, leading edge Facilities Management organisations can influence the business model and lead strategy by providing a leading edge environment for students, staff and faculty that:

  • Lead transformational change throughout the University
  • Create the optimal set of conditions for business processes change at every level of the university, and
  • Contribute to organisational transformation by adapting the asset environment to the institution.

Higher Education is on the cusp of a new era, and Facilities Management is where the opportunity exists to lead the institutions into an exciting future. New technologies can assist but thought leadership and the ability to drive and manage change will be key.

Tony is a corporate real estate strategist with over 30 years + of experience in multiple geographies and market verticals. He has been engaged by, and worked for many corporate, government and higher education clients to develop strategic portfolio asset and workplace strategies based on demographic and technology trends. Tony recently relocated back to Australia after 14 years in the US, to take up a senior role with IBM working with clients such as NBN, Westpac, Telstra, IKEA and a number of high profile global universities. Tony joined SPM Assets in the role of FM Industry Lead in January 2016.





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