The estate is one of a university’s most valuable assets not only providing the learning and research environment for students and staff but also now becoming a vital tool in the growing competition between universities to attract the best. More to the point, in an increasingly competitive and demanding world, universities are finding that their estates can provide a host of opportunities to generate much needed income and capital.
Perhaps the most exciting development in recent years has been the increasing extent to which universities and business are combining their activities. The origins of this collaboration probably lie in the early science and innovation park schemes - the University of Cambridge and its science parks are a particularly powerful example of how a strong local economy, a university of global repute and a research output almost without equal combined to produce what has become known as the “Cambridge Phenomenon” with the city now able to boast well over 1,000 technology, biotechnology and support organisations.
Indeed, universities are uniquely placed to promote business opportunities as Sir Andrew Witty recognised in his recent report for the Department for Business Innovation and Skills calling for universities to make the creation of economic growth their “Third Mission” alongside teaching and research. Universities often sit at the heart of their local economies, providing networks of users, innovators and consumers. They offer access to facilities and expertise as well as links to local and central government and can provide vital support to growth through such strategies as Local Enterprise Partnerships. The result has been an increasing number of high profile partnerships and developments between universities and major companies of which the University of Lincoln and Siemens, the University of Warwick and Jaguar Land Rover and the International Centre for Advanced Materials supported by BP working with the Universities of Manchester, Cambridge, Imperial College London and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are just three examples.
These remain challenging times certainly. Standing still is not an option but the opportunities for universities to make the most of their assets are many and on the property side in particular, the opportunities have never been greater.