Brexit ‘poses threat’ to higher education developments, warns architect

James Dick
James Dick

An architect whose practice specialises in designing university buildings has voiced fears the higher education sector may have to curb their ambitions because of a funding crunch arising from the UK’s decision leave the European Union.

James Dick, who leads the Glasgow office of Sheppard Robson, is concerned the Brexit vote will cut off a stream of European funding that he said has been critical to institutions’ ability to refurbish and upgrade campus buildings, as well as their success in attracting students from around the world.

Mr Dick cited his firm’s recent work on An Lòchran Enterprise & Research Centre in Inverness – a hub occupied by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the University of Highlands and Islands, and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) – as one project which would not have been possible without EU funding.

An Lòchran Enterprise & Research Centre
An Lòchran Enterprise & Research Centre

Noting that An Lòchran had been “totally driven by EU funding from the outset”, Mr Dick believes that the authorities in the Highlands and Islands “must be extremely concerned by the prospect of Brexit”.

However, he believes such concern will be felt all over Scotland, and fears that the decision to exit the EU has the potential to halt the growth ambitions of the country’s biggest universities.

Mr Dick, whose practice employs 24 people, told The Herald: “The universities have big ambitions and it will be interesting to see if they have changed since the Brexit vote.

“We all want to help them realise their ambitions. universities’ ambitions are very important – they need to compete with other universities around the UK. I think there will be a tentative period until we understand what Brexit brings.”

Mr Dick added: “I can’t help thinking – and this is a personal opinion – that their grand ambitions must have been affected in some way by Brexit. None of us really know; it’s a big question mark.”

Recent projects completed by Sheppard Robson in the higher education sector include the Centre for Virus Research at the University of Glasgow.

University of Glasgow’s Centre for Virus Research
University of Glasgow’s Centre for Virus Research

It was also the architect for the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and is now working on two research buildings for the institution at its Easter Bush campus.

Mr Dick said that universities all over Scotland, not just Glasgow and Edinburgh, have big ambitions, and expressed his hope that they will not be undermined by the UK’s departure from the political union with its European neighbours.

“The University of Glasgow is such a big institution, high up the Russell Group and it needs to attract students, as does the University of Edinburgh,” he said.

“Brexit is a threat, so something has to happen.

“They need the best staff and academics; they need to compete day to day with London, Cambridge, Oxford, St Andrews. A lot of these already have 21st century facilities.

“The universities need their ambitions to happen to keep their profile raised and to attract students.

“It’s incredibly important – not just for the universities but for the cities as well.”

Despite the uncertain outlook, Mr Dick insisted that Scottish universities can lean on the expertise they developed following the financial crash of 2008/09.

Sheppard Robson built up considerable experience of helping colleges and universities reshape their existing spaces to reflect more modern teaching approaches when public finances came under threat after the last recession.

Mr Dick expects more of that to follow as, with funding tight, universities adapt existing stock to reflect modern teaching styles and make better use of current buildings.

“It is not in a great position,” he said.

“But it’s been a good sector for us and even going forward it will hopefully still be fantastic sector for us.”

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