Tertiary talk


Space - the final frontier?

Tertiary Talk - November 2018

Space management is an important issue for tertiary institutions. Generally, space is the second largest cost for an institution after staff. The costs associated with facilities management have increased over recent years, as have construction costs. Combined with changes in teaching methods and delivery, changing demands and increasing requirements for flexibility, this intensifies the pressure on an institution to ensure that its space is used effectively and efficiently.  

Space management can be equally challenging whether an institution has too much or too little space, and both scenarios require a robust strategy and framework, along with metrics and reporting, to assist in ensuring that the space is optimally utilised. Best practice space management incorporates the following:

Rigorous capital investment planning
  • Once a portfolio of space is created it is a long-term challenge to significantly improve its utilisation; there are really only two options. Either increase the amount of activity, i.e. usually student numbers, or reduce the space available. The easier path is to ensure that space is needed before it is developed. This can require consideration of upwards of 30 driving factors including growth, operating model, and pedagogy over time, before financial feasibility is determined.
Effective policies, decision-making processes, and standards
  • Policies and guidelines should be linked to the overall priorities of the institution, and aligned with its mission and vision. The processes for deciding who gets what space, and when, should be transparent.  Good governance and oversight is also needed to ensure that the policies are adhered to.
Comprehensive metrics about space and its use
  • An institution needs a system that enables space inventory management, reporting and planning, ideally integrated with other systems such as timetabling and finance. Metrics to support space management, allocation and usage need to take into account the quality, functionality and actual utilisation of the space.
Effective organisational structures
  • The organisational structure should support the policies and processes. A systematic, campus-wide approach to allocating space and time is often required in order to make the best use of campus resources.
Incentives that encourage smart space management
  • Charging departments for the use of space may be an obvious incentive, however it is not without complexity. The design of a space charging or incentive framework should be carefully considered to promote efficiencies and avoid perverse consequences. Hot-desking and hoteling are other (often unpopular) strategies to achieve similar ends.
Well designed spaces that are easy to manage
  • The change in pedagogy over recent decades has resulted in demand for teaching spaces that have a degree of flexibility, with options to accommodate a variety of configurations in the medium term. In step with the evolution of working styles, stakeholders are also demanding a greater variety of spaces such as collaboration and social-learning spaces. This is likely to become even more important in the future as learning environments continue to change. There is also a need to match the mix of sizes of spaces with cohort sizes (the mismatch of these is the major cause of poor occupancy).

The total cost of ownership of space in our institutions is approximately $300/m2 per annum; utilisation rates of less than 25% are common throughout the sector, inferring that for every square metre in use, 3m2 are being wasted (and that is ignoring the large proportion of each year when we are on holiday or operating below peak).

An effective asset management system is critical in enabling an institution’s understanding of what space and resources it has, and how these are used. This information, when combined with space management, timetabling information and requirements, can be used to improve the utilisation of space and better plan for the future.

It is important to keep in mind that space management is about people and equipment as well as place, and needs to be viewed in the broader context of how to balance different interests and competing demands. One way of understanding the interplay between these elements is to create a balanced scorecard. Such an approach to strategic space management would incorporate the customer, financial, process and innovation perspectives and assist the institution in balancing the drive for increased utilisation and cost minimisation with the needs of staff and students.

Are you confident your institution has a robust space management strategy to assist in ensuring your assets are being maintained and managed effectively?

space management
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