Liverpool University unveils £600m development continuing the drive to improve Britain’s Universities.

Such a large investment signals a strong drive for Liverpool University towards improved standards in research, learning and student accommodation, with the end goal reputedly being a place amongst the UK’s, and ultimately the World’s, elite academic institutes.

Work has already begun with the creation of a £44m accommodation block under the control of construction company Ocon and completion is planned for 2012.  This is, however, only a small part of the £250m earmarked for student accommodation alone, reflecting the 12% rise in applicants for the 2010/2011 academic year across the nation, and the similarly strong figures delivered in recent years. The rest, the small matter of £350m, is earmarked for investment in the academic estate at the University’s city centre campus and at its Leahurst campus on the Wirral.

Leader of Liverpool City Council, Cllr. Joe Anderson, commented: “This isn’t small scale stuff.

“The University of Liverpool wants to punch its weight as one of the country’s leading universities and one of the finest research centres in the world. This investment will go a long way to helping it do just that.

“These proposals will also provide jobs and employment opportunities for local people, not to mention the promise of apprenticeships to help people gain vital experience in their trade.”

Perhaps most crucially, Liverpool is by no means alone in the ambition of its development plans. Exeter University is mid-way through a £275m expansion, including a glittering new business school and a campus centre piece (The Forum), Kent is investing £60m in student accommodation alone, Manchester Metropolitan is putting £120m into a new campus on Birley Road (potentially the greenest in the UK, with zero net carbon footprint, water consumption and off site waste disposal), and £75m will be used to construct a new campus for Salford Uni – in case you’re wondering, most of this expenditure was approved before the last election.

These developments aim to bring Britain’s universities up to date, not just in research and learning facilities, but also in accommodation and living standards. With the growth of Asian institutions and the continued dominance in the world league tables by their American counterparts (including such persistent table-toppers as Harvard and Yale), British Universities know they must react to the challenge and improve their standards.

At a meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2009 it was suggested that the global shift in universities could create a “redistribution of brains”, particularly in the context of heavy spending cuts which could further reduce the competitiveness of western higher education.

Britain therefore faces a serious challenge, in the shadow of spending cuts and tuition fee hikes, to continue to grow, expand and compete in the now global further education market.

Developments such as those in Liverpool may help to keep the next generation of great thinkers, scientists, law makers and mathematicians here in Britain. This will hopefully help to reduce the alleged “brain drain” to overseas academic institutions and protect our most valuable assets, our educated workforce.

20th June 2011