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Universities and higher education

Helping universities to compete globally for students and research funding, through the creation of thriving campuses

Universities are the beating heart of attracting new people to an area and encouraging start-up businesses. Campuses nurture and support start-up businesses in getting off the ground, therefore driving research and innovation.

They set the social, cultural and intellectual tone of cities and towns, making them more international, lively places. They support communities, drive economic growth and positively impact people and places, which in turn attracts entrepreneurs and skilled workers into an area and helps raise its profile as a great place to live.

Competing for students

With over 160 universities in the UK, competition for students from home and overseas is high. What students want from their university is also changing. According to research carried out by the NUS, 87% of all students want universities to take sustainability seriously.

Students now also expect collaborative and social learning spaces, digital teaching facilities, high-tech labs and international-standard sports facilities. Tuition fees have transformed the university-student relationship to one of service provider and customer, with buildings and the university estate playing a pivotal role in delivering that transformation. Even though many of today's university and higher education environments are unrecognisable when compared to a generation ago, there is still a long way to go.

Some of the challenges facing universities and higher education are similar to those faced by society in general, such as how to improve the health and wellbeing of people, how to create a feeling of 'place', how to harness digital technology to enable more diversity and creativity, and how to limit our impact on the planet.

The latter has never been more so at the front of university strategies, with the challenge of decarbonising estates being a big task. Add to that the fact that a lot of universities have older and heritage buildings, and how energy-hungry leisure centres and research labs can be, and it shows how much there is still left to do.

Download our Transforming Universities whitepaper here

Read some examples below of how we're helping to solve these challenges including:

Driving energy efficiency at University of Warwick's Sports and Wellness Hub

We played an central part in helping the university create energy efficiency plans for their estate. A key project in this was the £37m Sports and Wellness Hub.

The building had high energy demands due to the range of amenities, including a 230-station gym, a 25-metre-long swimming pool and a 17m-high indoor climbing wall. To help close performance gaps and minimise energy usage, we embedded our Energy SynergyTM building performance improvement strategy into the after-build service.

This involved monitoring operational usage across twelve categories from heating, ventilation and pumps through to domestic hot water. Within the first year, Energy SynergyTM had identified energy savings of £40,236 and a carbon saving of 98,520 kgCO2e. With the increase in energy costs we've seen in recent years, in 2023 this value equates to savings of £104,000 annually.

Many of the inefficiencies that we identified were caused by how the building was being used. In these instances, the solutions centred around helping the facilities management team to understand how best to manage the building. There were some cases where we identified specific ways to improve energy usage for the university, which have gone on to be included in the university's wider estate plans and future projects we have completed for the university.

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Integrating academia with industry at University of Birmingham's School of Engineering

The £47m School of Engineering building was multi-functional; it needed to be a space for students to learn, university lecturers to complete research and include a specialist research facility for digital railway engineering. Bringing together these areas helped to drive collaboration and gives students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with real industry research.

To meet the needs of all of the end-users, the new building houses a range of areas. Across five floors, there is a range of agile learning spaces available, including a 179-capacity design centre, seminar rooms, collaborative labs, 160 drop-in study spaces, meeting rooms as well as a dedicated student support hub.

On the south-west side lies the entrance to the UKRRIN (UK Rail Research and Innovation Network) building, which is home to specialist research into digital railway engineering. The separate facility includes a range of flexible working environments and technical working spaces. This includes electronics and electrical-focused project spaces, project and light labs, state-of-the-art equipment including cab simulators, a signalling control centre and a cybersecurity test lab, and electronic fabrication and technology assets.

Prior to this building being complete, University of Birmingham was ranked 15th out of the 38 Russell Group universities for engineering. Soon after the project completed, they advanced to ninth place with this facility providing an advantage and contributing towards this success.

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Delivering the UK's largest non-residential building to achieve Passivhaus standard - George Davies Centre at University of Leicester

In 2016, when it opened, the £42m George Davies Centre was the largest non-residential building to achieve Passivhaus standard - an ultra energy efficient design standard.

The university wanted a new facility that reduced annual energy bills by 80%. Going for Passivhaus meant they could have a building recording a ‘19’ energy performance asset rating, placing it in the ‘A’ category. Amazingly the energy consumption after completion was just 80kWh/m², compared to the previous 500kWh/m²!

At its core, Passivhaus takes a fabric-first approach to make the building incredibly well insulated and air tight to prevent heat leakage through the windows, walls, floor and roof.

To compliment this, we then included a number of measures to provide renewable energy and reduce energy consumption further including a ground air heat exchanger system, heat recovery ventilation, renewable energy, a green wall and roof, and solar PVs.

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For more information, contact our local expert

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