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March 16, 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 I know who are currently studying at college, they always complain about how busy it gets in the campus library. 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 the students and staff and making efficient use of the available space.

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To overcome these challenges, universities could consider the influence of new technological developments, such as virtual reality, on how they use space in the future. Why should students go to lectures when digitization 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 it a step further, at any time they like, students can attend a virtual guest lecture given by a leading professional, which is taking place somewhere else in the word, all from the comfort of their own dorm. 

The role of the campus is changing
Thanks to these continuous developments, the needs of those students and staff who visit the campus will start to change at break-neck speed. More than ever, real estate managers need to have the necessary tools to help them predict what kind of requirements a campus will need to fulfil in the future. To make matters even more difficult, real estate contracts are usually concluded for longer periods of time. If you want to be able to respond dynamically to changing needs, it’s a good idea to start thinking about other types of contracts, investing in new premises, renovating and refurbishing, and considering other potential commercial models to help you get the most out of the building. 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 (IoT), 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 looking at innovations, 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 have real added value for students and help them use their time efficiently, it should be transformed into a meeting place where students can study, work, live, play, and socialize.

As students and employees are increasingly deciding for themselves when and where they will study or work, it is 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 as a competitive advantage, and take the future into your own hands.

Frank Rosendaal
Business Consultant Planon Netherlands