Investing in the future of education with smart campuses

Smart Campuses

University campuses have always constituted their own micro-societies but by embracing the latest smart technology they can, in effect, evolve into mini smart cities that intelligently manage space occupancy and student/staff safety. 

As the UK begins to return to a ‘new normal’, buildings around the country are preparing to reopen – with many universities opting to continue with online lectures in the short-term before a potential full reopening of campuses and facilities later in the academic year.  Yet, the way in which we use public indoor spaces has been profoundly altered by the pandemic, shining a light on the need to optimise the hygiene, safety and energy efficiency of buildings. While much has changed in the past year, students still expect a lot from their higher education experience, one that study spaces and residential accommodation contribute towards significantly.

Higher education brings a diverse student body together in some of the most stunning and state-of-the-art buildings available. These days the costs of a university degree are higher than ever and this means students expect the best facilities alongside the best intellectual resources when choosing their place of study.

Since university campuses already constitute their own micro-societies, as simultaneous sites of work, home and leisure, there is ample opportunity for universities to enable smart city style transformation on campuses at a smaller-scale.

Smart buildings

In the simplest terms, smart buildings use advanced technology to achieve a series of benefits.  These include: improving building performance in such areas as energy, operations, security, and comfort; lowering the costs of equipment installation, operations, and service; and generating significantly higher user-satisfaction rates.

These benefits are achieved via the intelligent infrastructure that digitalisation enables. Data from these smart-building systems give a facility’s infrastructure a brain and a voice.

For students and other users in practical terms this means intelligent heating which makes an environment more comfortable for their work and intelligent rooms that are adaptable to different requirements. Sensors can also be used to manage air quality and circulation, helping to improve infection control within enclosed spaces and creating an ideal learning conditions for its occupants.

Energy Efficiency & Performance

Universities typically manage a varied portfolio of properties that could benefit from smart-buildings technology. For instance, centralised data can be analysed across the organisation’s portfolio to control energy consumption on a central dashboard. Some universities may also benefit from local energy generation or renewable technologies such as solar power or air-source heat pumps.

Energy Generation

Alongside increasing operational and energy efficiency, universities are well-placed to produce their own energy. One university in Scotland has made its Lanarkshire campus carbon neutral by adopting a combination of energy efficient measures as well as investing in wind farms and solar panels to fully power facilities. 

Security & Risk

Mark McLoughlin
Mark McLoughlin

Internet-of-Things (IoT) technologies have had a significant impact on improving campus security and safety.  Combined with WiFi these technologies enable the likes of networked CCTV, digitalised LED lighting systems, and digital identification card readers. Another example of the potential to provide increased security and support on campus is seen in geofencing. Geofencing uses GPS and radio-frequency identification to create a virtual geographic boundary in which software can monitor and respond to mobile devices entering and leaving an area.

Understanding the benefits of smart campuses is one thing; finding practical, affordable and sustainable ways of achieving smart-building conversion is another - particularly during a time of economic volatility. Where it is difficult for an organisation to justify prioritising capital investment, there is a temptation to do nothing. But every day that a building has not been converted to “smart” is a day in which money savings have been foregone, unnecessary natural resources have been consumed, and social benefits have not been delivered to students, visitors and employees.

Tailored, all-encompassing financing packages tend to be offered by specialist financiers who have an in-depth understanding of energy-efficient technology and its applications. Specialist finance providers understand the importance of implementing new equipment and new technology to generate revenue and cut operational expenses, and can therefore provide customised financing solutions that deliver energy savings and lower expenses, for instance, flexing the financing period to suit cash flow. This contrasts with the standard financing terms usually available from generalist financiers.

As UK universities prepare for a full reopening in a post-pandemic climate, discussions surrounding the future of campuses is more important now than ever. This article explores just a few examples of smart campus development. Such initiatives can help universities to reduce carbon emissions, keep pace with both evolving technology and current events, and make the overall user experience safer and more comfortable. The budget, however, has to be available to implement the system in the first place. Many universities are recognising the important role that the specialist private financing can play to help them fulfil their ‘smart’ ambitions and to respond to rapidly changing student and staff expectations.

[1] The Telegraph, When will universities reopen in the UK? 1st June 2020: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education-and-careers/2020/06/01/when-uk-universities-reopen-online-lectures/ https://bit.ly/3egIHHi

2 Source: Siemens Building Technologies

3 Richard van Hooijdonk, ‘Smart campuses are the future of higher education’ Medium (13 August 2019) https://bit.ly/2RIDK26https://medium.com/@publishing_20721/smart-campuses-are-the-future-of-higher-education-101beaef675e 

4 Norma Lehman, ‘The Future of Higher Education: Smart Campuses’ Spaces4Learning (03 January 2019)

https://spaces4learning.com/articles/2019/03/01/smart-campuses.aspx https://bit.ly/3sDoGzu

Mark McLoughlin is Key Account Manager with Siemens Industries and Markets

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