Over the past decade and longer, many Australian universities have experienced exponential growth. The influx of international students, and a wider uptake in domestic students to both onsite and online learning facilities have seen universities increase their infrastructure assets, including the construction of new buildings.
Since early March, due to the coronavirus pandemic, universities have been closing most of their onsite learning facilities. Many offer places on campus for students to access computers, printing and remote learning options while maintaining the necessary social distancing rules.
But what about the building assets? The accommodation and cafes, gyms and purpose-built study nooks? Are they just modern relics of a recent past?
For the interim, extensive checklists undertaken before closedown and regular security patrols ensure that facilities remain closed off and safe. The buildings wait, as if on pause, until the worst of the pandemic is over, and learning can resume. However, once restrictions are relaxed, it’s likely that international borders will remain closed for many months, putting stop to the flow of international students.
What is to be done with these enormous buildings if there are no students to fill them? How will a university bring students back on campus, when the world looks to be moving more and more online? Three major Australian universities, University of Sydney, Monash University and University of NSW1 are working on a recovery strategy, post-pandemic. A postponement of new capital works forms part of this approach.
With each upcoming generation even more reliant and conversant with digital learning, it remains to be seen how the university sector will recover post-COVID and what will become of the building infrastructure. There are no easy answers, but the economic damage caused by the coronavirus serves as a warning to over-capitalisation.
What are your thoughts on building assets? If you work in the university sector, we’d love to hear your opinion. Get in touch today: firstname.lastname@example.org