How to predict your future estate

Ben Moreland, director at Education Space Consultancy, discusses how to determine future space requirements

Over recent years the university estate has needed to evolve rapidly to accommodate new challenges effectively. With the cost of space typically being the second highest university expense, the ability to accurately determine future space needs has never been more important.

An effective method for determining future teaching spaces requirements is to carry out an annual teaching space modelling exercise. This process combines your university’s central timetable data with any forecasted changes for your target year(s), then predicts the number, type and size of teaching spaces required to accommodate the future demand.

The benefits of carrying out this type of exercise are obvious: the resulting information enables universities to plan their teaching space provision for each academic year well in advance, pinpointing potential issues and using the data to begin conversations. Estates, timetabling and academic departments can then work together to find these solutions, ensuring that by the time the students are on campus the challenges have been overcome.

A university’s central timetable database should, therefore, be regarded as one of the most important pieces of data within the university. Its accuracy not only impacts on the day-to-day student and staff experience, but also the number, type and size spaces required for current and future years.

When considering the accuracy of your university’s timetable data, we recommend the following four questions are considered:

1) Does the timetable database include all teaching activities?

2) Does this database include all teaching spaces? 

The central timetable database should ideally include all teaching activities and all teaching spaces, as only then can this data be used for determining the university’s total teaching space requirement.

3) Are all hours booked, used?

4) Have all timetable activities been assigned class sizes and, if so, how accurate are these?

There will always be some timetable data inaccuracy; however, the level of inaccuracy and the mechanisms for determining this are important. We have found that a 10% target for hours booked and not used is achievable, with space utilisation surveys being the common methods of measurement.

For timetable class sizes, a comparison between enrolled and activity class sizes will help to reveal their accuracy. A space utilisation survey will help to test the difference between the actual and enrolled class sizes. For the estate to be utilised effectively, the timetable must operate at a high degree of accuracy. This also applies to the future projections that impact on the estate’s ability to accommodate the future teaching demand.

Below are some key points that each university should carefully consider when looking to determine how future changes will impact on teaching space requirements:

  • Student number projections
  • New taught programmes
  • Taught programmes no longer running
  • Changes to programme and/or module current curriculum delivery
  • Changes to module teaching week patterns
  • Timetable constraint changes
  • Number/size/capacity/availability of teaching spaces

All impacts need to be carefully considered. For example, if a cohort is increasing from 150 to 250 students, will the teaching be delivered the same way? If not, then the timetable data will need to be adjusted to reflect the changing demands. Once all future changes have been accounted for, the data set can then finally be modelled to determine the teaching space requirements for the target year.

The result will be a series of future teaching projections that can now be used to plan the future estate effectively. This is an incredibly useful resource for ensuring the estate evolves as required over time and space is utilised effectively each academic year. It is, however, always crucial to remember that any prediction is only as accurate as the data it includes.

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