As we highlighted in a recent blog on the importance of space utilisation in higher education, challenges remain despite an increase in remote learning that has continued post pandemic.
Challenges in space utilisation are not just around teaching spaces – ensuring that the quality of teaching spaces is high and that there is an appropriate level of specialist spaces – but also paying attention to student community and support spaces, as well as the needs of back-office staff and teaching staff away from their face-to-face commitments.
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Understanding the project brief
Recently we’ve been working closely with a UK based university and wanted to share the way in which their space utilisation project has unfolded and the value it has added for them. As a UK based institution with more than 30,000 students and 5,000 members of staff there was a lot to understand.
The university has in place a clear high-level strategy to guide decision making towards 2030, and it was important for the Estates Team to review the existing space management strategy to ensure that not only was it fit for purpose still post pandemic, but that it aligned to the broader strategy and direction that the university is heading in.
Key to the project requirement was an understanding of how space was being used, not just in real terms, but also against expectations – overlaying data gathered with information from booking systems to get additional insight.
During the project we limited our surveys to spaces in London and covered a number of settings; teaching space and office space as well as learning and study spaces. Across approximately 50 buildings with just short of 200 floors we used 19 surveyors to survey 3,000 rooms every hour over a 2-week period during term time. As well as analysing the utilisation we also used the timetable data to compare booked vs actual to look at whether there are behavioural as well as space utilisation challenges.
The results of the survey – in numbers
15% booked lectures – “no shows” – this was across a number of departments and denoted times when the booked lecture didn’t take place at all
34% seat occupancy in teaching spaces when teaching was occurring – nearly 2/3 of seats not used – even when timetabled lectures took place, they were not maximising the space available
<25% seat occupancy in lecture theatres on average – it appeared that the issue of underutilisation was magnified in larger spaces where the potential to engage volumes of students wasn’t being realised
50% specialist teaching space bookings not happening – often a key requirement for specific courses, this denoted times when the anticipated teaching didn’t take place at all in spaces specially designed, such as labs
Away from teaching spaces, there was a similar story of underutilisation across back-office spaces – whether small individual spaces, or larger multi person offices.
25% – usage for single person offices (average frequency)
43% – usage for multi person offices (average frequency)
Project outcomes and client benefits
As a result of the data that we gathered, the university were able to collate a true picture of the way in which space is currently utilised. Whilst booking systems indicated that space was at a premium, the reality showed spaces that were often booked but then not used and those that were booked were much larger than required.
The university were also able to look at the wider picture to understand the space more broadly and to see how staff requirements dovetailed with those of their students.
As a result of the space utilisation project, they are now working on an amended space management strategy that we are looking forward to reviewing with them moving forward to ensure that it aligns with the wider university goals.
Data remains the key to understanding what is happening within any organisation, but particularly those with as many moving parts as you see in a Higher Education setting. With variability in attendance, often driven by remote learning options, and hybrid working reducing utilisation on back-office space, relying on traditional methods such as booking data, and systems to allocate space can give a false impression of actual usage. Nothing is more valuable than studying the space over a period of time to truly understand it’s usage and see the potential to free up space for curriculum expansion, better student support space and cost savings.