Times Higher Education has a brief piece on this and notes that, unsurprisingly, as external funding for capital expenditure has declined, universities have replaced this from their own funds:
The proportion of capital investment that universities financed using internal funds has leaped 20 per cent over the past four years, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency
UK universities spent nearly £2 billion from internal sources for capital projects in 2012-13, up from £1.5 billion in 2008-09.
The Finances of Higher Education Institutions 2012-13 report states that during the past academic year, universities’ capital expenditure was nearly £3.1 billion, 64 per cent of which was provided by internal sources. This compares with a total of almost £3.5 billion four years ago, of which 43 per cent was funded by internal sources.
Expenditure funded by loans remained relatively stable, at £408 million in 2008-09 and £326 million in 2012-13, according to the data published earlier this month. Meanwhile, capital projects financed by funding body grants fell by about half over the four years, from £765 million to £359 million.
So, despite the decline in funding agency contributions the total spend on buildings and equipment has increased significantly. Will capital spend continue to grow despite reduced public funding? We can expect so given the greater competition between institutions, the “arms race” of student facilities development and the need to invest ever more to support leading edge research.
The Guardian claims a bit of a scoop following a Freedom of Information request on building conditions in universities:
Scores of university halls of residences and lecture theatres in the UK were judged “at serious risk of major failure or breakdown” and “unfit for purpose”, a secret database obtained after a legal battle by the Guardian reveals. Some of the most popular, high-ranking institutions, such as the London School of Economics, had 41% of their lecture theatres and classrooms deemed unsuitable for current use, while Imperial College London had 12% of its non-residential buildings branded “inoperable”. At City University, 41% of the student digs were judged unfit for purpose. Universities argue they have spent hundreds of millions in refurbishment since the judgments were made two years ago and use some of the buildings for storage purposes only.
Large amounts have been spent on capital improvements in the last few years but the backlog, following years of underfunding and neglect, was substantial. The position will undoubtedly have improved further since the survey referred to here but it is inevitable that there will still be poor building stock around the country. So, not clear what the shock is here.
The government agency that holds the information, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), was forced to reveal it after an information tribunal ruled in the Guardian’s favour, agreeing that it was in the public’s interest for the data to be made public.
It looks like then that the difficulty of securing release of the information became the story here rather than the data itself which, whilst disappointing, is not exactly surprising.