Estimates by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that the UK higher education sector will endure losses ranging between £3bn to £19bn in 2020-21, depending on the number of students who choose to enrol or not.
It’s not just the number of students that will impact revenue for universities – we’ve been speaking to many within the sector during the pandemic who are acutely aware of how the effects of social distancing will ripple through the entire facilities set-up including events, hospitality and catering sites, all of which contribute financially to the wellbeing of the university.
As we all are learning, it’s not simply a case of if you have 50% less students on campus, then costs also half. Unfortunately, the reality is that even with just 50% student occupancy, a full cleaning service will still need to run, lecture halls will still be in use for the same, if not more time than they are already but just with fewer bodies in each session, eating outlets will still need to open but welcome less students in at any one time – the obstacles facing universities in reopening in a successful manner are significant.
What is clear is that universities can’t reopen and operate in the same way that they were – or at least, it’s unlikely if they do that they will be able to balance the budget sheet for too long. However, solutions can be found. It’s a case of marrying up the operational logistics of the new post-pandemic environment and aligning these to the commercial objectives that will allow universities to rebuild stability.
From the many conversations we’ve been having with various higher education establishments one of the main solutions that is emerging is tech. And what is so appealing about the various tech solutions is that they can help address many issues including space utilisation, maximising occupancy and reopening catering outlets.
The majority of universities have multiple eateries on-site, all of which now need to adhere to social distancing measures, ensure the smooth free-flow of consumers, adapt menus to allow for increased numbers of people taking food away as opposed to eating in and manage capacity levels. We’re working with a tech partner that allows universities to implement a pre-ordering click and collect service, which effectively manages all these issues with ease.
The cloud-hosted pre-order system enables students to view the full menu from their phone or desktop, order their food and drink options and choose an agreed collection time. It also allows for payment to be taken at the point of ordering, completely removing the need for any money to exchange hands at collection.
The benefits are vast – it allows universities to control capacity with set numbers of pick-up slots at each collection time, it virtually removes all human-to-human contact, it reduces large queues through controlled capacity and helps reduce food waste as orders are known ahead of time.
Promotions can also be integrated into the system, which can be deployed to help drive sales of certain product lines, to boost sales at quieter times of the day or simply to drive more loyalty.
It can also help offset the increased costs universities face from implementing enhanced post-pandemic hygiene measures. Although a set of PPE doesn’t cost the earth, it certainly mounts up when you’re buying for multiple staff members, on a daily basis, as well as installing sanitiser stations, increased signage around campus and so on. With tech allowing for operations to run more efficiently it’s likely staff can be streamlined in the catering areas – for example there will be far less staff needed at till points (if any at all), who can all be redeployed to manage the sanitiser stations or to help execute the new cleaning regime around campus.
Similarly, tech can help to bolster the hospitality bookings for example in meeting rooms – an area again that many universities we’ve spoken to are hoping to get up and running in September. This allows refreshments to be ordered online, with a full menu of options displayed and any orders being able to be charged directly to a department budget code or paid via debit card. This gives full transparency of costs, helps control internal budgets and reduces unnecessary admin – a win win.
The pandemic is a new situation for us all; and it’s a situation that we’ve had to adapt quickly to. It’s led many universities to review how they work, how facilities operate and take a keen eye to budgets. However, the solutions presented aren’t a million miles away from the path we were heading on – in fact tech has been increasingly embraced in recent years. The pandemic has just accelerated this.
We’re here to help you understand how you can overcome the complexities of welcoming students back and implement a way forward that enables you to thrive again.
To hear more about how we can help you develop effective tech solutions that deliver realistic and sustainable revenue growth for your university contact us through firstname.lastname@example.org or use our contact form to get in touch.
 Institute of Fiscal Studies, July 2020
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