For years now, education institutions have had to look more dynamically at their budgets and consider with their finance committees ways in which they can make savings and increase income.
Nevertheless, even by reducing staff levels and making more flexible use of all available space, even institutions with healthy reserves have seen these shrink, with financial forecasts remaining on a downward curve. This bleak picture has been further heightened by the valuation of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme this autumn which will lead to a huge hike in the level of employer pension contribution required to be paid from next year.
One way in which some education institutions have already sought to make savings is through their energy bills. This has the additional bonus of facilitating, particularly in schools, educating students on the importance of energy efficiency, the effect of greenhouse gases and the plight of the environment, whilst also highlighting the benefits of green energy, particularly solar renewal energy, as a growing and sustainable alternative.
It has, therefore, become highly desirable for education institutions to employ a better level of sustainability and environmental awareness by projects such as installing LED lights to increase energy efficiency and solar panels in order to generate their own electricity.
Whilst we understand that more than 1,000 schools have installed solar power in recent years to both address educational and revenue stream issues, we are aware that many landlords, including educational authorities, may place restrictions on such developments, particularly given issues with ownership of panels, business rates and the feed-in tariff system. This has been just one factor which has added to the strength of argument for schools to convert to academies.
Education premises with large buildings, often spread over multiple sites, should be encouraged to consider solar schemes, given the financial as well as educational and environmental benefits they can offer. Education institutions that are of a mind to explore it further should do so as soon as possible, given the proposed end of the current feed-in tariff system in March 2019. However, even after the demise of that scheme it may still make financial sense to do so for education bodies with lots of available space that provides the ability to optimise the return on investment.
With the mounting financial pressures on education institutions showing no sign of abating now is certainly the time to 'think outside the box' and look to exploit all available income generating sources.