Operational technology trends in tertiary educational facilities

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There are four segments under the umbrella of educational facilities: primary, secondary, TAFE and tertiary, and each segment is unique.

In terms of operational technologies, the built environment is definitely changing, particularly when it comes to universities in capital cities.

According to Grosvenor Engineering Group (GEG)’s national business development manager, Nick Hagen, there are several factors driving the evolution of tertiary educational facilities.

The first obvious factor? The pandemic.

One of the key issues discussed at this year’s Tertiary Education Management Conference was the changing student demographics and habits following the disruptions of COVID-19.

Universities have moved to a more hybrid model, with offshore and local students studying from home more often and coming onto campus for far less time than they used to.

This means tertiary institutions have had to become better at taking buildings that aren’t being fully utilised offline. On the other hand, they also have to become very efficient at maximising the spaces that are actually in use, from lecture theatres to bathrooms and other common areas.

There are also entirely different kinds of spaces and markets to manage in universities.

In 2022, we are finding universities are increasingly drawn to commercial opportunities, including hospitality and retail on campus. The sector is also integrating more with healthcare.

For example, GEG looks after the Prince of Wales Hospital, which is set to become part of the most comprehensive and largest co-located health precinct in Australia. On different levels within that hospital, there are also teaching campuses for both the University of Sydney and University of Technology Sydney.

From a service provision perspective, technicians and facility managers need to understand the tenancies within those buildings. Students in accommodation or on campus have different needs when compared with patients in a mental health ward. Different levels of security are needed for each group, for example, and you don’t want to set off alarms too easily if they will distress patients. It’s important to understand the sensitivity of tenancies within that built environment.

Asset management is crucial to achieving that balance and needs to be better prioritised to deal with the financial challenges brought by the pandemic.

Capital expenditure planning and management is absolutely paramount in these sectors. With less federal government funding, universities need to sweat their assets a lot more, increasing the lifespan of ageing assets.

More technology is necessary to better manage these assets. GEG offers technology that allows university facilities managers to have a quick look at a dashboard and understand exactly where their maintenance schedules are up to.

Possibly the most critical issue in the university sector, as it is across other kinds of facilities, is sustainability. University students are a lot more passionate about their environmental footprint than generations past.

While achieving net zero is a wider, cross-disciplinary effort, water management and energy management is within our scope to run efficiently. We have to be very aware of any carbon zero initiatives and how to work in partnership with the education sector on that, offering more sustainable products such as lighting and solar.

Some universities are early adopters of new technologies, but the vast majority in this sector are slower than others in more commercially-driven sectors.

As universities migrate more into the commercial sector, this could change. Anything that is sustainably viable, has payback periods, and is good for the environment is definitely worth having a diligent look at in tertiary educational facilities.

Nick Hagen is the National Business Development and Bid Team Manager at Grosvenor Engineering Group.