Sign up for a stint of space exploration

March 30, 2007

A new model for assessing a university’s building needs takes into account not only its academic profile but also staff and students’ activities, says David Chiddick

A ffordability is a critical issue across higher education. Estates costs are often said to be the second-largest outgoing for institutions after salaries, and they are rising. Energy costs have almost doubled in recent years. Even excluding residences, the higher education estate has a floor area of more than 20 million square metres. Its insurance replacement value is reported at more than £43 billion. Poorly used buildings are a drain on resources that could be better invested elsewhere.

The UK Higher Education Space Management Group (SMG) was set up to provide advice on effective space management. Its focus is on helping institutions ensure that they have the appropriate type and amount of space, and that it is affordable and sustainable. The Space Management Project, which is funded by all the UK funding councils, is led by consultants Kilner Planning and supported by Bernard Dromgoole of the Higher Education Funding Council for England. It was established to develop the necessary tools and guidelines for institutions.

Managing a university’s space more effectively can enhance the quality of both the student and the staff experience and can be positive for recruitment and retention. There is an intrinsic link between an estate that is fit for purpose and a viable higher education institution.

The SMG has developed guidance and tools to help institutions assess their space needs, promote effective use of space, and ensure that space efficiency is taken seriously in building design. It has calculated the cost of space that is fit for purpose and adequately maintained. It has also looked at how future changes in the sector might affect needs, and what can be learnt from the experience of other sectors and from higher education overseas.

The SMG has developed a method to calculate a university’s indicative space needs, in terms of the type of space required as well as the amount. This method shares much of the approach that underpinned earlier space standards developed by the old University Grants Committee and the former Polytechnic and Colleges Funding Council, but it is careful to recognise diversity in the sector. The SMG method assists institutions to estimate space needs on the basis of their own particular profile of academic activity and methods of delivery, rather than a set of standard assumptions about academic disciplines. The method also allows for diversity of practice across the sector in a way the earlier norms did not.

It can also be used to evaluate the space implications of changes in student and staff numbers, or of developments in pedagogy. Without such an assessment, it is difficult for any institution to know whether it has broadly the right amount and type of space. Benchmarks will help an institution decide if it has more space than it needs.

The SMG’s model for assessing the annualised cost of supporting an estate is regularly upgraded and renewed. It can be downloaded and used to get a measure of whether there is a gap between what needs to be spent on estates and what is actually being spent. It will help institutions to assess what size of estate is affordable and sustainable, in both environmental and financial terms.

A key theme of the SMG’s work is that space management is not an isolated task. It is as much about people as buildings and, to be at its most effective, it needs to be closely integrated with academic and financial planning. So we have aimed to develop strategic-level space management measures alongside practical guidelines and interactive tools that institutions can use to tailor to their own circumstances.

David Chiddick is chairman of the UK Higher Education Space Management Group. The SMG guides are available at www.smg.ac.uk

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