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Higher Education: A Hidden Gem of Opportunity

Last month, we took a look at how top universities in Hong Kong are building new facilities to attract the best students. In the UK, the situation is much the same, with over £8.8 billion worth of work started on higher education facilities since 2014. Despite Brexit on the horizon, the higher education construction market is expected to remain buoyant according to Glenigan, making this sector one to watch.

Where is the money coming from and why?

Nearly half of this work is from a group of 24 universities collectively known as the Russell Group. Despite only representing 15% of the total UK universities, this group – which includes prestigious members such as Oxford and Cambridge – has contributed £4.3 billion to the total spend.


However, other universities, such as those in the North East of England – including Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside Universities, which form the North East Universities Purchasing Consortium (NEUPC) – also have significant projects in the pipeline. The NEUPC alone has an expected spend of £750 million on their Major Works Frameworks Agreement, which includes BAM Construction, Bowmer & Kirkland Ltd, Clugston Group Ltd, Galliford Try Construction UK Ltd, Robertson Construction, and Sir Robert McAlpine.

This investment is a result of rising student numbers, with UCAS reporting steadily increasing application rates since 2009 – 37.4% of 18 year-olds in England applied to universities in 2018 compared to 30% in 2009. The removal of the cap on student numbers in 2016 also plays a part. Historic under-investment needs to be addressed to provide sufficient student accommodation, teaching facilities and research areas.

Who is winning these projects?

Despite the relatively smaller nature of these projects in comparison to infrastructure, many of the industry’s major players are actively pursuing and winning these contracts. In the last two months alone, several higher education projects have been awarded to major contractors, such as:

  • McLaren Property: £45m student accommodation project at University of Warwick
  • Balfour Beatty: £33m contract to update and extend two learning and teaching facilities for University of Strathclyde, plus preconstruction role on Edinburgh University’s £65m Darwin Biology Tower
  • Mace: £200m preconstruction deal for new building on University College London’s new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park campus
  • Aecom: awarded design contract for Project North Park, a flagship research and teaching facility for University of Exeter
  • Interserve: £105m new student complex for Durham University

What opportunities are available?

While other major projects may be starting to stall, such as the latest concerns over HS2 and Crossrail, the continued capital investment in new higher education facilities makes these institutions worthy of  notice.

As with any construction project, there will be demand for engineers, quantity surveyors, project managers, commercial and claims managers, and site supervisors, ideally with public facilities experience. If you are interested in working on projects to deliver cutting-edge facilities using innovative methods and materials, these projects may well fit the bill. Register your CV with us or create a job alert and we will keep you informed of the latest vacancies in your area.

About the Author

Steve Thomas
Construction Recruitment Director, UK & Canada
I am responsible for the Maxim Recruitment office in the UK where our team of recruitment consultants specialise in the recruitment of quantity surveyors, commercial managers, delay, dispute and claims consultants for civil engineering and building contractors and specialist construction consultancies.  I am also responsible for growing our recruitment operation in Canada and the USA where we are increasingly busy.  I have over 20 years’ experience in construction recruitment and enjoy working on both contingency and search/headhunting assignments for our repeat clients.
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Email: steve@maximrecruitment.com


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