The enduring perception of an office as a status symbol has contributed to the higher education sector lagging behind nearly all others in the efficient use of space.
That is one of the conclusions of a report on university estates management published last week by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which says that a "cultural change" is needed to reduce the amount of office space academics take up. "Other sectors have moved away from this model and embraced a more open-plan scenario," it says.
The report, Performance in higher education estates, says that the average office space per person across all sectors in the UK ranges from 10 sq m to 12 sq m.
In contrast, English universities offer an average of 13.2 sq m per person, Scottish institutions 14.5 sq m and Welsh universities a whopping 15.7 sq m.
In an effort to reduce those figures, the report suggests that universities should consider introducing "space charging" - evaluating how much space each department occupies and levying charges per square metre.
But the study, which is conducted annually, also found that the sector's use of space is improving, and that it has made advances against key benchmarks for environmentally friendly practices.
Hefce also reports that the UK's higher education estates are "far better placed" to withstand the effects of significant change than they were a decade ago.
This appraisal will be particularly welcome in light of a sharp downturn in universities' capital funding.
The report goes on to note that any fall in student enrolment would have a detrimental impact on estates management.
A median drop of 8.3 per cent in student numbers across the sector would completely reverse the gains it has made in space efficiency, it says.
Finally, the report notes that institutions may be able to earn extra income from their property assets.
"There remains some potential to 'sweat' higher education property assets more if income becomes harder to come by in future years," the Hefce report says.
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