Universities and the economy
From real estate to recruitment and further education, universities have a long history of providing value to regional economies. However, with Covid-19 presenting new challenges, universities must adapt and evolve their operations to ensure they maintain their value.
A key part of the economy
Universities remain massive drivers for their immediate regional economies, with the impact that they have going well beyond education. For example, student housing facilities offer a considerable boost to the real estate market, potentially bringing more property and construction-related jobs to the area.
Students also help to support the local retail and leisure sector, which largely relies on them to fill recruitment gaps in roles such as waiting and bar work. In turn, this has a domino effect on attracting new businesses to the region.
The impact of the pandemic
Although universities will continue to play key roles in the regions they’re based in, they will face some immediate challenges following the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the effects of the pandemic has been greater consideration by 18- and 21-year-olds around what they choose to do with their lives. There’s been an increased demand for masters’ degrees, for example. As well as this, students receiving teacher assessed grades at A Level has meant plenty of students attending their first-choice institution, which brings its own pressures on universities.
Beyond the immediate 2021/22 intake, universities will also be facing the issue of increasing numbers of applicants, particularly from countries such as China, which is expected to outstrip the EU in a matter of years. This could potentially result in the number of spaces needing to be increased to combat overcapacity.
On a more qualitative level, the pandemic has raised a number of questions around the daily operation of higher education institutions and the overall student experience. Universities are acutely conscious of the disruption students have had to endure over the last 18 months. They know that the support students receive, and the quality of the experience is key.
What needs to change
As we begin to move towards a new normal, universities will be required to evolve their operations.
Universities are grappling with the conundrum of addressing a more blended learning experience, which combines online lectures and face to face tutorials, against many students saying that they’d prefer to continue with in-person learning. This is a tricky problem to navigate. What it does emphasise, is the need to ensure that estates and teaching accommodation is as flexible as possible.
We are facing a paradigm shift in how the UK uses its real estate. Universities remain a key sector for the UK economy and they have an important role to play in building the future. Despite challenges, investment and development is still a focus for many universities. Although teaching methods and operations are changing and adapting to the latest challenges, the sector remains a good place in which to do business.
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With life getting back to ‘normal’, and with COVID-19 still around, the education sector may be a breeding ground for coronavirus outbreaks. It is important that universities have the relevant health and safety measures in place to protect the health, safety and welfare of its students and staff.
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Clive has been advising universities and colleges on the management and development of their campuses for 30 years.