Treasury eyes spy uncrowded rooms

June 28, 1996

The Government has been handed a powerful new weapon in its battle to prove that universities are not underfunded, with the issue this week of a report from the National Audit Office.

The report The Management of Space in Higher Education Institutions in Wales, like last week's report on equipment use in Scotland uncovers no scandals, makes no accusations of incompetence and applies to only a small part of the United Kingdom.

But its finding that teaching rooms are used at only about 20 per cent of capacity will be seized on by the Treasury.

It is unlikely to be convinced by pleas that the report refers only to Wales. The NAO estimates that the figure for most English and Scottish universities is 20-30 per cent. The Treasury is reported to have set up a working party to look at the comparative unit costs of different higher education institutions.

The report points to estates as second in importance only to staff costs in determining the economic health of academic instititions. The 14 Welsh institutions spend around Pounds 50 million each year on estates and have plans for Pounds 317 million development expenditure over the next ten years.

The NAO says that some of these developments have been planned on out-dated space norms developed in the 1960s and 1970s.

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