The mechanism for the maintenance and modernisation of infrastructure has undergone rapid changes in recent years. Many of the former public sector assets, such as utilities, rail, roads, hospitals and schools have been privatised and are now under the control of Public Private Partnerships.
This has created an entirely new set of problems, as private organisations are faced with predicting, financing and then managing the whole life costs of these assets on behalf of the traditional public sector.
The challenge is to achieve a proper balance between capital and operational expenditures to ensure cost effective delivery. It requires an integrated approach, bringing together appropriate technical and managerial expertise.
In the private sector, owners are increasingly regarding their constructed assets as business enablers and factors of production. As such, their performance during operation is often as important as the original capital investment and knowledge of the risks can exert a critical influence on business decisions.
Tomorrow's asset managers need to understand why infrastructure assets of various kinds deteriorate over their service lifetimes and appreciate how these problems can be managed effectively with minimal expenditure.
Improved education and training opportunities, which bring together the relevant technical and management issues, play an important part in raising awareness of the problems. A decline in the numbers choosing civil engineering as a first degree subject in the past decade, coupled with already over-crowded undergraduate timetables, means training has to be provided at postgraduate and postexperience levels.
Such training must go beyond the general building and civil engineering degree courses and delve into specialist areas of materials, deterioration modelling, assessment and asset management. In addition, training needs to be accessible to those already employed in industry who have limited time for course attendance and private study.
With these considerations in mind, the University of Leeds school of civil engineering, with the support of the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), is this month launching a programme of modular postgraduate/continuing professional development (CPD) courses to provide a masters training package (MTP) in infrastructure asset maintenance and management.
Delivered as intensive four day courses, the MTP is backed by an industrial advisory panel of representatives from organisations in the asset management and maintenance sector. Panel members had an input into designing the modules and will be involved in teaching.
The courses form the taught components of MSc (Eng) and postgraduate diploma, which may be taken by full-time (one year) or part-time (two to five years) study and offer a large range of options. The individual four day short courses are ideal for those requiring CPD in specific areas.
Infrastructure and building owners see constructed assets as factors of production.
Performance during operation is as important as the original capital investment.
An understanding of rates of deterioration and how to manage them is an important skill for construction professionals.