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August 01 2012

More than bricks and mortar: how to make the most of your facilities

Good facilities are integral to good universities, so how can HE leaders finance, plan and manage their estates in a way that leads to gains and not losses? Join the live chat, Friday 3 August

Campus development: everyone's at it. From minor refurbishment projects to more sizeable construction jobs, it would seem - in the UK at least - that appetite for new, bigger and better facilities has defied the austerity mantra.

State-of-the-art facilities are not simply a vanity project. They help attract students, provide a tailored space in which academic staff can teach and conduct research, and are part of the wider distinctiveness and economic strategy.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) puts it this way: "Research shows the increasing importance of the role of higher education institutions in local and regional economies through knowledge creation and knowledge transfer. Facilities play a crucial role in meeting educational needs and providing places where knowledge exchange can happen. However, they are an expensive commodity to provide and maintain."

And at a time of considerable change in higher education, coupled with a global economy in renewed crisis, many wonder if greater gains could not be achieved by investing elsewhere in the sector - predominantly in teaching and research.

But the question shouldn't be whether buildings are worth more than brains. In an assessment of which is more valuable to the creation of scientific knowledge, scientists or facilities, assistant professor Fabian Waldinger concludes: "It is difficult to evaluate how much high quality scientists and better facilities contribute to the creation of scientific knowledge".

Similarly, a non-targeted injection of funds into capital projects won't guarantee a university's survival. As a recent report into US colleges and universities found, development without a good strategic plan could lead to liquidity issues. The report, The financially sustainable university, explains: "Many institutions have operated on the assumption that the more they build, spend, diversify and expand, the more they will persist and prosper. But instead, the opposite has happened: Institutions have become over-leveraged."

So how can facilities and senior managers finance, plan and manage their estates in a way that leads to gains and not losses? And as technology permeates all areas of HE, what is its role in facilities management? Join our live chat panel to explore what an effective learning environment looks like, what the benchmarks and performance indicators of effective management are, and how to make university facilities financially and environmentally sustainable.

The live chat takes place on Friday 3 August, in the comment threads beneath this blog and will begin at 12 BST

If you would like to join the panel, please send me an email.

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