Improving Space Utilisation

Better by Design

Why do average utilisation rates persistently hover around the 25% level, when there is so much pressure on space, with such weighty focus on the issue?

Improvement of utilisation rates fundamentally challenges the culture of an organisation and is inextricably linked with curriculum planning and timetabling. It is important to recognise that:

  • Intensification of space usage during the teaching week, may be achieved at the risk of increasing control over when and where staff teach and students attend
  • Efficiency gains in this area inevitably involve a change in the balance of power between staff, students and managers
  • Improvements in the occupancy rate for teaching space may be achieved by aligning room and group size
  • It is equally vital to understand how to take opportunities to physically remodel space
  • Certain, sub‐optimal, course combinations can have a disproportionate impact on the timetable creating bottlenecks and displacing teaching activities into irregular times and spaces. Recognising the marginal cost of such combinations can be a challenge both to course designers and marketers.
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    Experimentation and development of new teaching and learning formats may radically alter the way in which space utilisation is benchmarked in the future

    Student access to space without supervision, more informal and social forms of learning and learning space, each have the potential to drive campus transformations. In this context, it is necessary to look beyond timetabled activities and room‐bookings, to the deep structure of the curriculum and the ways in which space fulfils a role in the student and staff experience.

    Tackling these issues requires an integrated approach combining the expertise and knowledge of experienced timetablers with estates professionals and curriculum planners. The approach is an integrated solution based on robust research and considerable experience in both institutional and consultancy contexts.

At the core of our approach lie three key principles:

  • Improvement of the utilisation rate must be designed-in to the curriculum planning and timetabling processes from the earliest stages
  • The outcomes of the timetabling process are determined by decisions and processes for managing curriculum development, student choice, enrolment information and staff workload planning
  • Therefore, any significant improvement to the process must be designed-in from the earliest stages if it is to be effective
  • Technology should be used judiciously to serve the people and the process
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    There is no substitute for human understanding of the process and any technological solution should be driven by the process design.

    Any significant change must recognise the inherent inter-dependence of processes, roles and systems and ensure that these are fully aligned with institutional academic strategy, culture and organisational structures.

    No significant and lasting change can result from either over-simplified or one-dimensional approaches. It is not worth automating that which should not be done at all.

    People are at the heart of the system
     
    Ultimately, the observed utilisation rate is a product of timetables which are designed to put the right groups of students and staff together and it is vital to recognise their needs and expectations.

    Conflicting priorities will arise and need to be managed but we should beware of systems and processes which are predicated on trading-off the needs of the very people the system exists to support.

    The involvement of key stakeholders in understanding, informing and shaping the future system is vital to avoid unintended consequences and to achieve clarity at both policy and practice levels

    The challenge of improving utilisation rates is inextricably bound up with the corporate timetabling process and it is often helpful to consider:

  • Modelling of current timetable capacity and assessing the impact of utilisation improvement activities
  • Mapping of the current timetabling process and evaluating timetable policy and practice implications
  • Implementation issues including methodology, timeline and organisational capacity/capabilities
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    These tasks allow multi-disciplinary teams to consider the full ramifications of any changes needed to improve utilisation rates and to determine the cost/benefit of such approaches before committing to implementation.

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