The education sector is undergoing significant change and has been for some time. In the world of higher education for example, the emergence of digital learning over the past decade has redefined and broadened pedagogical access.

As our recent blog discussed, “one thing that 2020 has taught us is that, whilst remote learning is a valuable and essential asset to modern education, the built estate remains highly relevant”  - regardless of increased digital tools, education spaces continue to be an important contributor to achieving successful learning. 

With billions of pounds spent on education estates development projects across the UK each year and numerous new academies and schools being built, last week’s Education Property and Development Conference, run by Built Environment Networking (BEN), provided a forum to discuss how social, technological and economic trends are reshaping property and construction projects in the realm of schools, colleges and universities.

Thought Leadership

The panel of expert speakers discussed a wide range of trends and challenges that will impact the design, operation, and experience of higher education spaces. As the keynote speaker, Nicola Fairburn from DAC Beechcroft, discussed, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has acted as both an accelerant and a disruptor; fact-tracking trends that were already in motion. It has changed the strategic focus for schools and universities, while not fundamentally changing the direction of travel. It is therefore important to consider what these drivers are, and what they mean.

Campus of the Future

A number of key trends seem set to shape the future of the property and construction projects in the education sector:

  1. Changing mix of functions, and the need to future-proof spaces
  2. Increased use of blended learning
  3. Drive to improve sustainability
  4. Divestment and shrinking estates

1 - Changing mix of functions, and the need to future-proof spaces

Flexibility looks set to drive all future education estate developments. There is a rising demand for spaces that can be transformed on a regular basis, according to ever-changing curricula and the individual requirements of students, departments and industry partners.

Spatial requirements are also being redefined by the emergence of new, more varied learning methods. As the University of Westminster identified in the panel discussion, they foresee less demand for traditional lecture theatres and office space, while there is a growing need for collaborative workspaces, labs and innovation hubs.  Chris Hinge, their Director of Estates, also discussed how they are considering downsizing some functions, and developing the surplus space into hubs for social learning.

Moving forward, more attention will be paid to re-evaluating programme requirements coupled with the purpose of each building in the broader estate ecosystem.

2 - Increased use of blended learning

While digital learning is looking set to play a major role in access to education, on-campus experiences will remain key to providing a community to exchange feedback and form relationships.

Blended learning has been taking place for some years, in varying forms, but the current pandemic has brought this into sharp focus. As the keynote speaker Nicola Fairburn pointed out, virtual communication works in many contexts but sometimes doesn’t meet specific student needs. Face-to-face contact can be key to stimulating collaborative research, for example.

Moving forward, education estates will need to take this into account when considering communications infrastructure, resource allocation, and real estate requirements.

3 - Divestment and shrinking estates 

This brings us to the possibility of divestment and a review of estate capacity and need. The feeling shared by all panel speakers at the BEN event was that education campuses may become smaller over time but will not fundamentally change. The nature of real estate requirements will however shift: considering what needs to be enhanced, what elements are surplus, and what functions can be shared (e.g. with the private sector, other institutions, or the community).

Planning is key, and several of the speakers, including from University of Nottingham and Kings College London, are fast-tracking future estate plans to consider matters of overall strategy, connectivity between buildings, funding, and transport links.

4 - Drive to improve sustainability

The fourth major driver, and a much-discussed topic in the BEN forum, was that of sustainability. The majority of education institutions recognise the need to improve sustainability and their strategies are increasingly taking into account environmental impact and use of scarce resources. Initiatives range from exploring energy generation and distribution projects, to sustainable retrofit options for existing estates.

There is a need for an agility to maintain high performing, relevant education estates. The industry must harness our collective efforts to reach the government’s net zero target by 2050.

High Performance Spaces

Overall, educators need high performance facilities that are sustainable, cost-effective to build, run and maintain, and suit the current and future needs of their estate. 

Our approach to delivering education projects accordingly couples best practice guidance with a bespoke approach to ensure each client's needs are met. Our Hackwood Primary School project, for instance, responded to client drivers for an efficient delivery programme and was delivered in record time thanks to the utilisation of modular construction, progressing from a planning application to building handover in less than a year.

Other recent highlights have included Lexden Springs School, a state-of-the-art, new build SEND school in Colchester that won the education category at the East of England RICS Social Impact Awards in 2020 and was subsequently awarded 'Highly Commended' at the RICS Grand Final 2020, as well as Kings School Macclesfied, a multi-million-pound redevelopment of one of the UK’s largest independent schools which has since been rated as BREEAM ‘very good’.

Looking Forward

Pick Everard helps education clients develop far-sighted responses to emerging challenges – from tackling increased competition for revenue streams to planning IT and communications infrastructure for virtual classrooms. To help our clients evolve with educational trends and continue to function at their best, we bring expertise at all stages of your journey.

Contact Abigail Blumzon, Client Project Delivery Advisor, on 0345 045 0050 or abigailblumzon@pickeverard.co.uk to discuss how we can help you with your education built environment needs.

Image is of our recent, striking Teaching and Learning building for the University of Warwick.