Occupancy rate, is just as important as frequency rate, yet it is often not seen this way and I find this is usually simply down to a misunderstanding over the importance of occupancy and what the effects of poor occupancy practices can be.
There is often an embedded view within institutions that as long as the room is being used, it is being well utilised, but this simply isn’t the case. Changing this understanding of what a “good” room utilisation is, can make a significant difference to the overall occupancy and utilisation rate for an institution – without having to invest funds – so is definitely a worth the effort. If your large teaching space always seems to be the space where there are no timeslots available, this article will be particularly helpful.
First of all, lets start from the beginning – what is occupancy rate? I have explained this in more detail in a previous article looking at frequency, occupancy and utilisation rates however, in brief your occupancy rate is defined as how the number of people using a room compares against the room capacity. For example, if there are 5 people using a room with a capacity of 100 the occupancy rate is: 5/100 = 5%. Whilst if 80 people were using this same room, the occupancy rate would be: 80/100 = 80%.
The problem that institutions face, is that not all the class sizes are the same and neither are the room sizes. Therefore, in order to achieve a high occupancy rate both must be matched up against each other, when timetabling an activity. If this isn’t done effectively, it can drastically effect the availability of the large teaching spaces, which has a negative impact on the student experience and the estates costs – this is key – Improve the occupancy rate, improve student experience and reduce estates costs.
This is the most important piece of information to understand when it comes to occupancy rate in my opinion, so lets go through this using some examples:
The table to the right, shows all the timetable requests that are yet to be timetabled into the three available teaching spaces on this example teaching day – Monday 09-17:00. There are three rooms available, each with a different capacity – Teaching Room A Capacity 15, Teaching Room B Capacity 20, Teaching Room C Capacity 35.
All of the Table A timetable activities have been “timetabled” into these three rooms using two different booking practices, as outlined below.
Example B – This example, uses the same timetable activities as shown in Table A but some of the classes have been timetabled into larger rooms than needed – see this article for examples of why this may occur.
As you can see, both examples have been able to accommodate all of the timetable requests and both have the same overall frequency, occupancy and utilisation rate – therefore what’s the problem? The problem is the availability of the large space and 1) the effect this has on the student experience for timetabling and 2) The effect this has on the estate costs.
Lets start with 1) The effect this has on the student experience of timetabling.
Although both examples have accommodated all of the timetable requests, for Example A the largest space (Teaching Room 3) still has 3 timeslots available, whilst for Example A there is only 1 timeslot available. Therefore in Example A, there is much more room for manoeuvring the timetable activities to create a timetable that is beneficial for the student experience. Lets use the same examples again and say that an institution’s student experience feedback suggests that students would like a lunch hour and a maximum of 2 hours teaching in a row – now lets look again at whether this is feasible in both of these examples:
As you can see, for Example A it has been feasible to implement a lunch hour (Monday 12-13:00) for all students as well as ensure that students are only taught for a maximum of 2 hours in a row. However for Example B, although it has been feasible to implement a lunch hour (Monday 12-13:00) it has not been feasible to ensure that students only have a maximum of 2 hours of teaching in a row.
This clearly demonstrates the effect that timetabling activities into larger teaching rooms than required can have to the timetable and its ability to provide a positive student experience. By enabling classes to be timetabled into rooms that are larger than required, the availability of the large teaching spaces are significantly reduced, resulting in the large teaching space appearing full and hindering the timetable from being able to implement timetable strategies to improve the student experience.
Increasing the demand on the large teaching space, thereby limiting the availability of timeslots in this space, will also result in there being much less room for manoeuvring timetable activities again hindering the timetable’s ability to create a student experience focussed timetable.
In addition, there is the issue of availability for future bookings as shown in Table B on the right. Example A can accommodate an additional 3 classes with a size 20-35 whilst Example B can only accommodate 1.
Why is this a problem? There is often the need to accommodate timetable activities for adhoc teaching and non teaching activities throughout the year, in this scenario Example A has much greater flexibility than Example B. Also, unforeseen increases in class sizes (i.e. clearing) late in the timetabling process can often result in timetable activities having to be moved to larger rooms to accommodate the increase in students. Example A, can offer multiple timeslots meaning it can accommodate a larger number of large classes as well as provide more options, whilst Example B can only offer 1 timeslot in the largest room. What happens if 2 activities – English Class A and Science Class C – increase their class sizes to 22?
Example A can accommodate both of these increases in class size as well as still accommodate the lunch hour, whilst Example B can only accommodate one of these increases in class and is now also unable to ensure that all students have a lunch hour. In this scenario, time would either have to be spent negotiating moving classes from the larger room into smaller rooms where possible or the length of the teaching day increased to accommodate the increase in demand. Both of these, will not only take a lot of time to implement but also have a significant negative impact on the desuetude experience.
Having looked at the effect these booking practices can have on the student experience lets now look at 2) The effect this has on the estate costs and how by implementing occupancy focussed timetable practices, an institutions overall frequency, occupancy and utilisation rate can improve.
This is a little trickier to explain, but I will try and keep it short! A low occupancy rate, means that the space being used is larger than that required. For example an institutional occupancy rate of 50%, means that on average every teaching room is only half full/empty (depending on your outlook in life!). For every capacity not utilised, this represents wasted space which translates directly to cost.
Improving the occupancy rate, will enable an institution to consider making space and therefore cost savings by reducing the number of rooms available in its teaching stock. These savings can be considerable, removing a 35 capacity seminar room can translate to a saving of £5827.50 per annum, whilst removing a 100 capacity seminar space could save £16650 per annum. (Calculated using the SMG Review of Space Norms estimate of 1.85 m2 per capacity for a seminar space and AUDE’s HE Estate Staistics Report 2014‘s space cost of £90 per m2).
To explain this, I am going to continue with the same example but treble the number of Teaching Room 3’s and representative timetable activities as shown below:
Looking at both Example A and B, it is apparent that both have a differing number of unused available timeslots – Example A has 9 unused timeslots, whilst Example B only has 3 unused timeslots. As all the rooms in this example are only available for 8 hours, one of the rooms in Example A could therefore be removed as shown below and still accommodate all of the timetabled activities.
As this example shows, by ensuring the timetable practices focus on occupancy rate it has been possible to remove one room from the teaching pool leaving 2×35 capacity rooms to accommodate all of the bookings , drastically improving the institutions frequency, occupancy and utilisation rate as well as consequentially reducing the estates cost by £5875.50 per annum – as shown below. I should point out, that using this same example – i.e. trebling the number of rooms and booked activities – likewise Example B would be able to remove one of the smaller rooms from its pool of teaching space as there are comparatively less bookings in the smaller space- however, in doing so the institution will make less of a space saving and not increase its occupancy and utilisation rate as significantly as shown in Example A.
I hope these examples help to explain why I believe occupancy rate is so important and how improving the booking practices that effect occupancy, should be a high priority for all institutions. Ensuring that all those involved in timetabling within an institution, including academic staff, understand these principles will help the institution to work together in improving practices aimed at improving the utilisation of space such as those mentioned in other articles within the Education Space Consultancy blog, such as How to Significantly Improve Your Occupancy Rate, By Changing One Timetabling Process. This will be a great help in not only improving the occupancy rate within an institution, but also the student experience. If you are interested in communicating this message, it would be worthwhile checking the 7 Ways To Improve Timetabling Communication And Understanding Within Your Institution article for tips and info on how to communicate timetabling and space information effectively within an institution.
So, what do you think? I hope you have found this article interesting and helpful, if so please remember let others know. Also, if you have anything to add or have recently carried out any of the tips yourself, then please let others know by leaving a comment at the bottom of the article, it would be great to hear from you.
If you are interested in getting the most out of your teaching space and want further information, take a look at the Teaching Space Utilisation Surveys and Consultancy , Space Modelling and Timetable Modelling pages for further information. Also please don’t hesitate to get in contact with me directly, I am very happy to offer free advice to help you get the most out of your space.
All the best