London's education estate - schools, colleges and universities in the capital

Friday 17 October 2014

© Simon Kennedy

London’s education estate – the capital’s schools, colleges and universities – are taking steps to try and better integrate with the rest of the urban fabric, allowing the public in to share more of its facilities and expertise.

That was one of the key principles to emerge from a half-day conference at the NLA, sponsored by ArchitecturePLB and chaired by Professor Philip Ogden of Queen Mary University, that looked at how each sector is responding to the challenges of population growth and a city that must keep improving its liveability if its education institutions are to stay at the top of the world’s tables.

ArchitecturePLB director Rachel Shaw said that London’s education estates should move from being distinct and separate estates across the capital to overlapping ones, blurring the boundaries of the campus in the city. But where school education used to be about preparing people for the workplace, it was now about developing their skills for lifelong learning and the reskilling they will periodically need to do. Developers, moreover, are wiling to step into the student residences market, but there is a backlash there too, albeit where building has slowed because local communities recognise that students aren’t always the best neighbours and boroughs are identifying the ‘studentification’ of areas. Shaw said that many of the universities the practice works with have better engagement with the public as part their corporate strategy. ‘Perhaps it starts to be about blurring the boundaries of the campus and the city, inviting them in’, she said.

Mairi Johnson, Global Education Sector Leader, AECOM said that cuts to budgets across the board and the rising difficulty of attracting the private sector meant that we will need a ‘radical rethink in how we deliver public services.’ But in an age in which young people are learning differently, designers need to be very much part of the solution.

UCL Estates director Andrew Grainger said his institution had grown substantially to the point where it now has some 30,000 students, 10,000 staff and a turnover in excess of £1bn. It can also boast a large estate that has an insurance replacement cost of some £1billion. UCL is now trying to fix the legacy of the past and problems of the present, adopting a new 20-year strategy whose main theme is to improve the student experience. Expenditure to this end for this year alone is over £140m and will rise to some £500m over five years. It is also looking to the east with UCL East in Stratford and will be both working with partners more and borrowing more in future to fill the gaps left by funding shortfalls.

In Croydon, the picture was more to do with school places, the borough’s north team leader, development manager Nicola Townsend painting a picture of addressing the needs in part by using more pre-application discussions on projects.

Discussion raised points including a note on a rise in NIMBYism towards student accommodation in some areas, although less so in the east, where regeneration benefits and the stimulation of a daytime economy were more appreciated; the rise in importance of research in maintaining international visibility and credibility, even the need to start talking about ‘Loxbridge’ – including London in the field of excellence in this area.

The conference also heard from Nicholas Hare Architects partner Jayne Bird, who emphasized the need to provide more ‘social spaces’, including encouraging interactions in HE buildings on staircases and elsewhere and creating pausing places and other interaction spaces in schools. ‘Let’s not let these guys down and make sure they’re prepared for the world of work with different settings and more of a concentration on social interaction’, she said.

HawkinsBrown partner Oliver Milton described the ‘refreshing’ approach Southwark is taking to its procurement of schools in the borough – a kind of ‘bespoke standardisation’ rather than one-size-fits all, encouraging reuse, involving the schools themselves and recognizing that each is different.

King’s College director of space management and facilities advisor Ian Caldwell said his institution has five campuses and is growing by another 3,000 students over the next three years, and that collaborations on projects such as Med City or the Francis Crick Institute are becoming more important. It is also becoming more necessary to be more open, through projects like its Science Gallery International, aimed at getting more 15-25 year olds through the doors. Similarly UCL is trying to open up its King’s College campus with a new two-storey student-focused learning commons with access for the public, and is anticipating greater connections if and when the Garden Bridge opens, connecting campuses together. The Mulberry site at Canada Water is another opportunity, where King’s is developing 770 new student rooms, office space, affordable housing, retail units, a health care centre and landscaped public space.  ‘King’s does not believe in creating a gated community so we have had to persuade planners we want to be part of the urban grain and connect in with the local community’, said Caldwell. They are called Univer-‘cities’, after all, he added.

Finally, Savills’ commercial research director Mat Oakley said one of the biggest areas of growth was in regional universities looking to set up in London – up 4000% - with institutions like Warwick, UEA and Sunderland all taking the plunge. Education has been more active in property than banks in recent years, and London offers students safety, multiculturalism and the opportunities to get part-time jobs, so Savills believes more foreign universities will also take space in London. Oakley’s top pick, however, would be the opportunities for education in the Vauxhall Nine Elms area, though institutions should think about excess government space, new submarkets and JVs with infrastructure- loving global investors.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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London's education estate - schools, colleges and universities in the Capital


With the announcement from London Councils in July that the capital needs an additional 133,000 school places by 2018 to cope with future demand, and with London’s universities going through a major shift in their approach to their estates in order to adapt to global demand, how is the face of education in London changing?