Association of College Capital & Estates Conference

I was at the Association of College Capital & Estates Conference yesterday, and enjoyed some thought provoking presentations and discussions about the future of the sector.

It’s clear that budgets are tight and sources of revenue and capital funding are difficult to access; this has been a common theme throughout talks. There are many issues influencing the sector; devolution, relationships with LEP’s, ongoing Area Reviews, the Government Skills Plan, and the impact of the newly released Industrial Strategy White Paper.

What has struck me most today, is the difficult position the FE sector finds itself within the overall education system in this country; stuck between Schools and Higher Education providers. Does it seem reasonable that the revenue funding streams are set up to prevent a surplus being generated? This is preventing colleges from operating at a profit and reinvesting the surplus back into their estates; and leveraging this capital to secure further sources of public and private sector funding.

One presentation by the Chief Executive and Principal of Richmond upon Thames College, Robin Ghurbhurun, described the journey his college has been through to enable a £100m development of their existing campus which had not seen any development since it was built in 1937. The combination of leadership and vision, together with his innovative approach to estate management, was inspiring, and was no doubt thought provoking for many others in the audience.

Estate rationalisation like this, and many other examples that were raised and discussed during the day, bears a resemblance to schemes we are working on across a wide variety of sectors, including healthcare, education, and local authority led mixed use developments. The combined public and private sector funding reminds  me of our work on schemes such as Factory 2050 with Boeing and University of Sheffield; the Material Innovation Factory with Unilever and University of Liverpool Material Innovation Factory, and the Centre for Sustainable Chemistry with GSK and University of Nottingham.

I’ve come away from the conference with a fresh outlook on the challenges and opportunities in this sector; and am excited at the prospect of assisting colleges around the UK in developing their projects of all sizes to meet the ongoing needs of students, teachers, communities and business.