Many institutions carry out a Teaching Space Utilisation Survey at least once each academic year throughout a teaching week, with each of these surveys recording the number of people using their teaching space as well as sometimes checking who is using each teaching space against the timetables for that week. At Education Space Consultancy, Teaching Space Utilisation Surveys are one of the core services we offer to HE and FE institutions, as they are often a seasonal, time consuming and stressful survey to put together, manage and analyse for those working within an HE and FE institution.
So why carry out a Teaching Space Utilisation Survey in the first place? What is it that the institutions are looking to understand and accomplish by carrying out these surveys? This article takes a look at what, in my experience, I believe to be the 5 core reasons and benefits of carrying out a Teaching Space Utilisation Survey.
1) Increasing The Availability Of Teaching Space
I have found that is common amongst institutions for there to be a perception amongst staff and students that there is a shortage in the amount of teaching space available , some face more pressure than others – but nevertheless there is usually some feeling that there isn’t enough space! However to provide more teaching space there would be a significant cost – whether this be constructing an additional building (very costly!) or refurbishing space currently assigned for other purposes creating additional teaching space (costly and takes space away from another service!).
A Teaching Space Utilisation Survey and Report aims to investigate whether there is truly a requirement for additional teaching space and also come up with cost effective solutions for reducing the current teaching space demand and therefore increasing the amount of available teaching space, without significantly effecting the teaching practices or student experience.
The truth is that there is always a difference between what is timetabled and what is actually used. This may sound like a bold statement, but I am yet to find an institution where there isn’t a significant difference. This difference represents an opportunity to investigate and resolve the reasons behind rooms being booked and not used, decreasing the number of rooms booked when not needed and thereby increasing the availability of teaching space for those that need it. I see this as a win/win, no investment required nor is teaching or the student experience impacted on, yet teaching space has been gained.
A survey can also help to pinpoint individual teaching spaces, departments, buildings, campuses, days and times that are currently being underutilised. In doing so, these can also be investigated with the aim of finding out the reasons for the low utilisation and building a strategy for the future that will help the institution make better use of the poorly utilised space highlighted. This could be by making a department’s space available to other departments (whether this be the whole week, or specific times), or changing the space type of a poorly utilised space to that of one where there is a proven shortfall. Each helps to increase the availability of teaching space within the institution, helping ensure the institution makes more out of the space they have available and improve the timetabling experience.
2) Reduce Costs And Increase Income
Space = money and the more space you have, the greater investment it requires in order to maintain each year. If you require more teaching space, then again as already mentioned this will cost you even greater investment. Therefore ensuring you get the most of your teaching space, or any space for that matter, will help your institution to ensure they are getting the most out of the capital they have available.
A Teaching Space Utilisation Survey provides your institution with concrete evidence on how your teaching space is being utilised. The critical point is that this is actual usage and not timetabled usage. The difference can be – and usually is – significant. If you only use timetable data to manage how much teaching space you require, you are most likely providing too much teaching space for what is actually required and therefore wasting capital.
A Teaching Space Utilisation Survey and Report will show you how much space you actually require, enabling you to use this data to investigate options for making more out of the space that is available. This can be done, via two main options. The first being by reducing the amount of teaching space and making it available for other purposes – reducing costs and potentially raising capital. (Either due to leasing/selling the space and therefore raising capital and removing the maintenance costs or through the saved costs of providing a space for a service that would have required additional space being leased/purchased/constructed and maintained).
The other option, is that the number of activities using the teaching spaces could be increased. This won’t reduce costs, but it will increase revenue or allow for increased student teaching hours or an enhanced student experience. Increased revenue could be achieved by increasing the number of students the institution takes on or by making the space available to external parties for booking. As mentioned, instead of raising revenue, underutilised teaching space could be used to accommodate an increase in the number of student teaching hours or be made available for other purposes that would benefit the students, such as bookable revision/presentation/meeting space.
3) Improve The Timetable
As already touched on in this article, the ability to produce a “good” timetable is at least partly reliant upon the teaching space available and the processes related to how this space is booked and used. The definition of a “good” timetable, is a topic for another occasion, but the point being that if your teaching space is always seemingly fully booked you are unlikely to be able to produce as great a timetable than if you have had an increased teaching space availability. It will be very difficult, or seemingly impossible, to create a timetable that accommodates soft constraints such as day of per week or a maximum teaching day length if your teaching space is fully booked.
A Teaching Space Utilisation Survey therefore enables you to investigate all of the teaching space available in an effort to find those areas of low actual utilisation. These spaces can then be further investigated to find out the reasons why and find solutions that will increase the availability of teaching space within the timetable helping to create a great timetable.
4) Feeding Into And Influencing The Estate Strategy
An institution’s teaching space is typically a fundamental and significant proportion of an institution’s estate and its strategy. If you don’t have not enough, or have the wrong type of teaching space available, the student and teaching experience is likely to suffer impacting on recruitment, amongst other things. Have to much space and the institution will be investing to much capital into teaching space compared to what is required, resulting in capital being wasted.
A Teaching Space Utilisation Survey’s data enables an institution to determine how its current teaching space is being used and investigate options for improving how it is used. This information can and should then inform the estate strategy, combined with future teaching space demands from those who will require it. This will enable an institution to accurately plan how much and what type of teaching space is required for the coming years, ensuring the most is made of the space and therefore capital available and minimising the risk that there will not enough or the wrong type of teaching space available over the coming years.
5) Reporting for EMS and eMandate
I have left this as my last point, as I believe this to be more of a requirement than a benefit. Universities have to report their teaching space utilisation results annually via EMS and Colleges now have to do similar via eMandate, as well as many other estates related measurements. This is enforced so that all Universities and Colleges estate usage can be monitored and compared.
Upon collection and analysis the headline data is then made available to all those that participated, however its usefulness tends to vary as the type and quality of the teaching space utilisation data provided can differ from one institution to a next.
In an answer to this, I have set-up a separate service – The Space Util Group – that is currently being trialled with a small number of institutions. As part of this service HE and FE institutions teaching space utilisation and timetable data is compared, analysed and made available to those that participate via a monthly updated consultancy report. the aim of this, is to provide a useful and action focussed resource that those who participate can use to understand how they are using their teaching space in comparison to other institutions. There are also other services available via The Space Util Group, such as an online community, live workshops and a library of video tutorials so feel free to take a look and get in contact if this is something you may be interested in!
Ultimately a Teaching Space Utilisation Survey enables an institution to understand how its space is being used and ensure it is getting the most out of the space it has available. What an institution deems as a good use of space, is dependent on what it is trying to achieve.
If there is a desire to reduced costs, then a Teaching Space Utilisation Survey can help to increase the amount of teaching space required – reducing costs and potentially increasing capital. If there is a desire to improve the student experience, a Teaching Space Utilisation survey can help to highlight inefficiencies and improve the availability of teaching space to enable additional student focussed soft constraints to be considered. If there is desire for more teaching space a Teaching Space Survey can help to increase the teaching space availability without taking on more teaching space. Understand and make better use of your space and carry out a Teaching Space Utilisation Survey!
As you can hopefully now see, a lot can be achieved as a result of a carrying out a Teaching Space Utilisation Survey. If you currently carry out a Teaching Space Utilisation Survey or are interested in doing so, why not get in contact with me to see whether Education Space Consultancy can help. I would be very happy to provide a project brief as well a quote, with no commitment required, so please don’t hesitate to get in contact!
I hope you have enjoyed this article, please do let me know if you have any questions or anything to add via the comments box at the bottom of this article. Similarly if you have anything you would like to discuss with em directly please don’t hesitate to get in contact it would be great to hear from you.
All the best