AUDE’s annual Estates Management Report (EMR) is the best and most considered analysis that UK universities have to help them make the right long-term strategic decisions about their estates. Estates Directors use the report to benchmark estates activity, and for the facts and accurate data that support the biggest choices about future investment. As in past years the report groups universities according to size, or teaching/research bias, to enable universities to compare their estates to those that are most similar. As much as ever the EMR is a tool for improvement.
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Publishing in December 2021 this year’s EMR takes us back to a long ago pre-Covid world, covering the period August 2019 to July 2020 – the final five months of data cover the initial period of pandemic lockdown in the UK, which of course had a dramatic effect on the functioning of every institution. For estates teams this was a period in which it became their role to “keep the show on the road”, and an extended article in this year’s report details how colleagues did just that – finding ways to enable major capital projects to progress within the guidance current at each stage of the crisis; working with contractors in a co-operative spirit to learn and implement the best anti-Covid site practice; delivering onsite testing facilities, sanitation stations, one-way systems and socially distant classroom layouts; and more. As the response to our recent #AudeCovidHeroes campaign has demonstrated, the sector is well aware of and very grateful for the immense efforts of estates colleagues in keeping universities open and able to play their part in the national pandemic response during this period.
The longer-term effects of the pandemic – on overall HE estate space, on design and layout, or the need to change and then perhaps to manage our physical spaces differently, and much more – will become clearer over the years.
We cannot know what Covid will bring next. But as the Executive Summary of the report makes clear there is a palpable sense (and particularly in the immediate aftermath of COP26) that our estates teams would welcome an urgent return to a focus on the sustainability agenda. While the UK government has been among the first to establish a clear national target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which in turn has encouraged others, including local authorities and universities, to make similar commitments, it has not yet used every lever at its disposal to draw together the required whole-system approach. It urgently needs to do so.
What next for the EMR? AUDE wants to focus on solving problems for our member universities, and that includes listening to concerns about difficulties in data collection and finding ways to ameliorate those issues. The data needs a thorough review. There are differences of opinion among our own steering committee: some would change a certain item, or remove it, while for others the same item is important and helps them benchmark their university against other institutions.
As AUDE’s Executive Director Jane White said: “We’ve started a review process as a matter of high priority. This useful dataset will become valueless unless we do everything we can to ensure it is fit for the challenges we now face – less than 30 years from the 2050 net zero carbon target. Through our EMR steering group and member universities, we are working with Jisc and HESA first, and will bring in stakeholders with their many and varied insights as we progress. The result of the review must be capable of attracting broad support. As part of this work we will look at new ways to present the data in a digital format to maximise its value to universities. Gains achieved through this process may come in increments. An obvious area of focus should be on measurable environmental data that helps us to reach our net zero carbon targets. In the meantime, we urge universities to continue to submit the fullest possible data return for each academic year so there are no gaps in a valuable record of change over time. AUDE has consistently argued against the decision to make collection non-mandatory, with the obvious overall loss of sector benchmarking capability. When did any of us make good decisions without the data to support those decisions? We have seen many of our universities take on societal leadership roles in the fight against Covid, and many aspire to similar leadership in helping society respond to our major environmental challenges. Please continue to support the collection of this data while AUDE engages across the sector to make changes to the dataset. We really can’t afford this to be a case of ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’.”
AUDE members will of course be fully involved in that process and we look forward to sharing information on our ideas during 2022.