Cut departmental selfishness to cut costs, report advises

Delft University of Technology report says universities could reduce estates footprint by 25 per cent via more space-sharing

October 30, 2014

Source: Getty

Space for all: my shelf is yours

University staff must become less “territorial” by sharing teaching and office spaces with staff from other departments, a study of the “inefficient” use of space on European campuses has recommended.

Institutions face huge bills to upgrade ageing campuses, many of which were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, according to the book-length report by researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

About 40 to 70 million sq m need to be upgraded across 850 universities in the European Union’s 28 countries, according to The European Campus: Heritage and Challenges, published on 16 October.

But universities could reduce the footprint of their estates by up to 25 per cent, with staff sharing teaching rooms and offices far more widely, it says.

“We think universities should reconsider the territorial culture they have, in which areas are designated exclusively to certain groups,” said the report’s co-author Alexandra den Heijer, associate professor in Delft’s Faculty of Architecture.

“People have this sense of belonging, often to a certain corridor,” she observed, adding that the need to “have your own office or name on the door” was also very strong.

Open-plan offices or hot-desking would not be popular or likely achievable, but more flexible and efficient use of space was possible. Small groups of academics could work together in larger offices, personalising the space and building a sense of community, Dr den Heijer said.

Universities should also open up landmark buildings to other departments, she added.

“If you have an iconic or historical building…you need to make sure as many people are using it as possible, rather than having it used by a specific department,” she said.

Institutions were also urged to use less expensive, more functional buildings as well as high-quality, high-cost ones. This is common practice in the US and Japan, where universities “window dress” campuses with striking high-cost landmarks but leave other areas less well kept.

“In the Netherlands, we have tended to want every square metre to be the same quality, which is very expensive to do,” she added.

While universities spend an average of €500 (£390) per square metre on a “plain and efficient” space, it takes up to €4,100 per square metre for an “inspiring and representative” building, the report says.

In the study’s analysis of almost 300 universities, it found that EU universities provided an average of 10 sq m of academic building space per student.

However, this varied widely across the union, with 13 sq m per student in the UK and 21.4 sq m per student in the Netherlands, but Italy provided just 7.5 sq m per student. Offices, laboratories and classrooms also had high vacancy rates and low utilisation rates, which means that a significant part of the 5 to 15 per cent of university income spent on estates was wasted, the report says.

Two-thirds of the UK’s academic buildings were built after 1960, and 42 per cent of those between 1960 and 1970. Many may be approaching the end of their lifespan, the report says. But Britain is “ahead of the game in Europe” after investing a “huge amount of resources to improve infrastructure over the past few years”, noted Dr den Heijer.

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