Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Cost of Learning Spaces

To date my blog has not addressed the cost of developing contemporary learning and teaching spaces in the HE sector.It seems to me that this can be, and often is, an expensive business however I also believe that its possible to achieve much by spending a lot less.

We often use designers, architects, consultants etc. etc. at great expense when in fact we overlook the imagination, experience and flare that may exist within our institutions.

I know the architects reading this will be be spitting feathers but in economically tough times when we have to economise, but provide and progress at the same time, something has to give.

I am not suggesting that new builds or massive refurbishments don't require these professionals but smaller refurbishments may be achievable in house.

I put this out there for discussion because cost is now, more than ever, the barrier to many projects being started which results in the problem of sub standard learning environments not being addressed.

Any takers?


  1. Nigel,

    We spoke about this yesterday when we had a Skype session. You are spot on with your assessment, on the smaller refurbs here the Project Managers are now doing the design work involving other key people, including myself and key stakeholders, before it would have gone out to the architects. There are obviously some financial savings being made. Also as I mentioned to you yesterday we have received tenders back from contractors which were way below expectations and budgets allocated for the projects. The contractors know it's tough times financially and have taken the effort to source cheaper but still fit for purpose solutions, but it is essential that we do not lower standards as a result.


  2. I guess I disagree, we prefer to use AV consultants especially in our situation and have been doing so for over 5 years.

    Our primary role is to support over 270 shared(central) teaching spaces, all with varying degrees of technology in them.

    If we were to do some of the AV design with our current resources (8 full time and causal student interns) to save money, any sized project would deplete these resources and teaching support would suffer as a result.

    One suggestion I would make is to try and bundle (if possible) these smaller projects together. We have just trialled this, and found it to be successful, even though it is a little tricky to manage.

  3. Carlo
    If the resources are inadequate to allow for in house design then I agree with what you say. Can you tell me to what extent you are involved wither the AV design? I also have a resource issue at Aberystwyth and often call on outside expertise, but the overall concept is in house.
    I like the idea of the bundles of projects. We did this about 9 years ago when we were given money from a government source for AV improvements. Those projects now require revisiting.

  4. Nigel

    We work closely with the consultants and oversee the AV design, with all documentation (design, tenders etc )coming to us for approval. It's this documentation which would take up a lot of our time if we were to do it in-house.

    We also have a set of design guidelines which we ask all consultants to adhered too, this ensures standardisation across the university which we've worked really hard to achieve!

  5. Hi Carlo,

    Apologies I don't think my comments were clear enough, I was refering to the Estates PM's designing and specifying the fabric of the space, the M&E requirements etc, for smaller refurbs, not the AV design. As it happens here at Newcastle we also oversee the main AV design but we don't involve external consultants, if we need help with design of control systems we go direct to the manufacturers who are very helpful, our procurement office put the tender documents together, incorporating the AV specification. Yes it is extra work but we are able to cope with it and still provide support to 165+ spaces. We also have design guidelines for the same reasons as yourself and Nigel.


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