Managing Space at Oxford University

Space is a valuable and limited resource across the University’s estate and is subject to competing demand. Added to this, externally-leased space in Oxford is expensive, rarely available in quantity or significant size, and often not available in the needed locations.

Summed up in two sentences, this is the challenge facing the University’s departments when seeking additional space to cope with their current and future growth.

In response to a request for additional space, the Estates Services Space Management team undertook a major review of space allocation and use by the University’s central administrative departments (known collectively as University Administration and Services or UAS).

The University’s Buildings and Estates Sub-committee (BESC) set the Space Management team a task to review all of the space allocated to UAS – taking into account the current, and any predicted future, pressures. Specifically the team was required to:

  • assess UAS’  diverse requirements
  • look for  consolidation opportunities
  • identify options to make best use of the available space.

The Challenge

UAS comprises 16 departments, operates in over 80 different buildings across the city and comprises more than 1600 staff. The Space Management team was tasked with accounting for the differing circumstances of individual departments and their operational needs, while being flexible enough to deal with any fast-changing requirements.

In addition, the team needed to consider the complexities imposed by the buildings themselves in terms of age, layout and accessibility. They also had to take into account restrictions on opportunities to make changes due to historical and conservation issues. 

‘You can have two similar spaces in terms of their physical size and floor space, but when taking everything into account, you may come to very different conclusions about how the space can be used or the number of people that it can accommodate. ‘This may be due to the limitations to alterations allowed because the space is listed, if there are conservation factors to be considered or because there are accessibility issues.’

Says Space Planner, Emma Spencer

The Solution

Over a period of seven months, the Space Management team, in consultation with UAS, visited all the buildings and talked to department heads about their current needs and future requirements. They also looked at the available space, checked the occupancy rates by counting desks in use, and assessed the buildings’ limitations.

The team’s report featured a number of issues including:

  • fragmentation of UAS departments across the city
  • UAS departments occupying more than one building
  • limited access to meeting space
  • consolidation of space constrained in some cases by the specific needs of particular services
  • limited opportunity to reconfigure or expand capacity in some buildings due to their  layout or structure
  • variations in space usage.

The Outcome

The report identified a number of opportunities for improvements to help address these issues. These included consolidating storage, increasing the amount of shared meeting spaces, and the use of open plan offices.

The report was well received:  BESC approved a number of space allocations and endorsed the opportunities identified to improve space usage across UAS. The team’s efficiency recommendations led to UAS requiring less space and enabled the release of a floor in a building which was being leased from a third party, generating a substantial cost saving.

Published November 2015