Working out how much and what type of space will be needed in the future is a major challenge for HEIs. The SMP report ‘Impact on space of future changes in higher education’, produced by Professor Ronald Barnett and Dr Paul Temple at the Institute of Education, University of London is available at www.smg.ac.uk/resources.html. This report does not set out to predict the future size of the HE estate. Rather, it is intended to stimulate debate and to approach space use from the perspective of how academic activity might change in the medium term. It aims to be useful to academics and managers seeking a fit between changing operations in their institutions and the estates infrastructure. The main findings are based on a research method focused on interviews with academics and managers in a cross-section of English HEIs.
Over the past 10 years, there has been discussion about whether the traditional campus will become a minor part of an increasingly virtual estate and whether the physical location of institutions will be less relevant. The report considers that while this may happen to some degree, a remarkable feature of many institutions is their durability as a coherent organizational and physical form. Many HEIs derive strength from their highly integrated nature: from Tran disciplinary contacts, from connections between teaching and research, and between academic and social activity. A coherent physical presence allows these features to operate effectively.
The research highlighted the promotion of connections between HEIs and their regional business communities by a wide range of agencies. These relationships are associated with new forms of knowledge production, which have an impact on the type of space needed on campus and a blurring of the ways in which facilities are used across teaching, research and third stream activities with business and the community. The report also concludes that given the academic drivers behind space demand, institutions are unlikely to experience a significant reduction in overall space needs, as reductions in one area are offset by new demands elsewhere. For example:
a. Learning space will be one ‘new’ need, with more provision for student-led and blended learning environments.
b. Distance e-learning will have a relatively limited impact on institutions’ overall space needs.
c. Research activities will require a small net increase in space, concentrated primarily in
a small number of institutions.
d. Work-based and itinerant learning will lead to some reductions.
e. New central infrastructure and administrative functions are likely to generate pressures for more space.
f. Space will be subject increasingly to remodeling to meet new needs or new standards and to provide for multiple uses.
The UK higher education system is becoming increasingly diverse, and this diversity is leading to diverging approaches in the use of space, particularly between teaching-led and research-led institutions. The report concludes that this divergence is likely to increase. However, across the sector, the quality of an institution’s facilities will increasingly be seen as an important marketing asset and will accordingly attract more resources and management attention.