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16 March 2017

What are the implications for real estate managers of the changing role of the university campus?

Whenever I talk to my nephews, nieces and other people who I know are currently studying at university or at a higher education college, they always complain about how busy the university library gets. This is hardly surprising considering the research carried out by the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), which found that over the past 15 years the number of students has grown by 22% and the number of staff has increased by 4%. Consequently, educational institutions are now faced with the challenges of satisfying both students and staff and making efficient use of available space.

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To overcome these challenges, universities might want to consider the influence of new technology, such as virtual reality, on their future use of space. Why would students go to lectures when digitisation provides them with the necessary tools to watch that same lecture remotely? Thanks to virtual reality, the experience is, after all, virtually the same. To take things a step further, at any time of their choosing, students can attend a virtual guest lecture that is being given by a leading professional somewhere else in the world - all from the comfort of their own chair.

The role of the campus is changing

As a result of these continual developments, the needs of students and staff who visit campus is starting to change at break-neck speed. More than ever, real estate managers need to have tools to help them predict what kind of campus will be needed in the future. To make matters even more difficult, real estate contracts usually span long periods of time. If you want to be able to respond dynamically to changing needs, it might be a good idea to start thinking about different types of contracts, investing in new premises, renovation and refurbishment and other potential commercial models to help you get the most out of your buildings. Key questions here are: what will bring people to campus in the years to come, what will students and staff expect from their working environment and what kind of spaces would meet these expectations? To put it simply, what role will the campus play in the future?

Real estate managers can take student and staff preferences into account when making strategic real estate choices, but they can also base their decisions on facts and figures. In my previous blog about the Internet of Things, I mentioned that data collection can yield surprising insights. You discover trends and usage patterns you never knew existed. For a real estate manager, for example, it’s very useful to know which study areas on campus are the most and least popular.

Keep the campus attractive

After listening to experiences and considering innovation, it seems that students are increasingly attending lecturers remotely, but they still want to share and process knowledge in real-life situations. A campus should offer more than the ‘virtual reality’ workplace at home; there has to be something that motivates students to visit the campus regularly. For a campus to add real value for students and help them to use their time efficiently, it should be transformed into a meeting place where students can study, work, live, play and socialise.

As students and employees are increasingly deciding for themselves when and where they will study or work, it’s high time that real estate managers started responding to these developments. They are responsible for making sure that students can get what they need from the campus, both now and in the future. Use your real estate to competitive advantage and take the future into your own hands.

Frank Rosendaal
Business Consultant Planon Netherlands