Design space to suit needs

June 25, 2009

Universities are spending a fortune developing vast estates without researching the kind of space that is best suited to their staff and students, according to an environmental psychologist.

Speaking in advance of a Times Higher Education conference on estates management, which is due to take place next week, Edward Edgerton, a lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland, urged universities to do more research in the field.

He said that while universities are the home of research, the majority have, inexplicably, failed to properly investigate an issue that is literally on their doorsteps.

"A vast amount of money is being spent on university estates across the UK. The irony is that considering universities are centres of research excellence, there is no evidence to support the impact of this expenditure," Dr Edgerton said.

"There is nobody carrying out research to look at the impact of new buildings on students and staff. We have some buildings, such as a new development at the University of Edinburgh, that are purely about research.

"If a building has an obvious purpose - for example, to stimulate better research - then surely research should be being done to ensure it achieves that objective."

Dr Edgerton said that such work would not only feed into the design of specific projects, but could also help to inform future developments and to ensure that new learning spaces were a success.

"I would encourage universities to take advantage of the expertise available to look at the impact of new buildings. That could be done in-house if the expertise were there.

"We should be looking at the way staff and students behave in their environment. The new buildings may be infinitely better, but some aspects of them will be better and some elements will be worse. That's the sort of thing we need to know," he said.

Despite the sums of money that universities invest in their estates - which is seen as an increasingly important factor for many institutions in attracting students - many of them have tended to shy away from assessing their own strengths and weaknesses.

Dr Edgerton said the sector's reluctance to properly evaluate educational environments had been fuelled by the expense of such research and concern that institutions "may not like some of the findings".

Alexi Marmot, professor of facility and environment management at University College London and director of Alexi Marmot Associates, is also scheduled to speak at the event.

She will present the findings of research into the best ways to save space on campus while offering a good-quality learning environment.

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com

The estates management conference will take place at the Commonwealth Club in London on 30 June. For more information, visit: www.tinyurl.com/l4x575.

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