Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to: identify the current and future challenges faced by university facilities managers; analyse their associated risk levels; and establish practical ways to address the identified key challenges. Design/methodology/approach – Personal interviews were conducted with 25 members of the Australasian university facilities managers (UFMs). The constructs generated at the pilot interviews were used to design a structured but open-ended questionnaire with which the Tertiary Education Facilities Managers Association (TEFMA) members were surveyed. The multi-attribute method was used in the data analysis. Findings – Results showed that the critical challenges currently facing the UFMs comprised issues relating to the following (in diminishing order of significance): inadequate funding, emergency management and business continuity planning, statutory compliance, sustainability and environmental stewardship, keeping up with rapid changes in technology, operational efficiency, identifying and meeting stakeholder needs, maintenance and manpower. Preparing for and responding to disaster/emergency was perceived as the most critical challenge of the future, perhaps, due to the recent natural disasters. Overall, poor funding was identified as the root of all other issues faced by the UFMs, hence suggested strategies for addressing the key challenges harped on financial improvement measures. Other key measures included optimized asset utilization, supporting business case for capital investment with demonstrable returns on investment, improving FM's strategic relevance through linking FM and corporate strategies, and investment in efficient technologies such as the building automation and management systems. Originality/value – The findings have contributed to filling an important knowledge gap by not only identifying the current and future challenges facing the UFMs, but also prioritising them based on their relative influences on the achievement of the strategic goals of the FM department. This way, the limited resources at the disposal of the UFMs could be disbursed more cost-effectively in addressing the critical challenges in line with their identified risk levels. This would be of practical benefit to the facilities and property managers in formulating appropriate responses to the identified critical constraints with a view to achieving more satisfactory outcomes in their operations.