Further Education Colleges and Area Reviews: Is Estate Rationalisation really part of the answer?

Nick Boles MP says that estate rationalisation will be one of the key outcomes of the forthcoming Area Reviews.  It seems like the obvious answer; smaller, more efficient estates have lower running costs.

However, with all that’s being asked of Colleges at the moment, we find ourselves asking whether estate rationalisation will bring the true benefits to learners that should be at the heart of any decision?

The case for rationalisation:

  • The average College occupies 35,000m2 and spends £1.8m on its estate per annum.*
  • Funding cuts and demographic changes are impacting on student numbers.
  • Technology and new modes delivery offer potential for less traditional contact time.
  • Growth in apprenticeships will further reduce on-site demand.
  • More than 30% of the FE estate is in “category C or D” condition and is best removed.
  • A 20% reduction could save up to £400-500k annually in running costs for a typical college.

The case against:

  • Reducing the number of campuses will reduce access to provision.
  • Just removing space does not enhance the learner experience, the quality/functionality of retained space must also be improved.
  • Changing pedagogy, technology and on-line provision does not necessarily equate to less time at college.
  • Changing patterns of delivery can actually increase space requirements; increased student centred learning may require more space per learner than traditional techniques.
  • A quality student experience requires more social, sports and support space.

Our verdict:

Rationalisation will be part of the solution but this has to be guided by educational vision and thought for the wider student experience.

When looking at future space needs, we think we need to move beyond the traditional utilisation models; these only really look at the circa 50% of any college’s floor-space that is actually directly engaged in teaching and learning.  Instead we need to ask ourselves:

  • How much time do we expect students to spend engaged in some form of learning?
  • When might this happen; from accessing on-line resources in the middle of the night to summer courses, are there opportunities to extend learning beyond traditional core hours?
  • Where might this happen, in College, at home, on the bus, or in the workplace?
  • What kinds of activities will support this learning?  From hands-on skills training to one-to-ones over coffee, different activities need different spaces.

Only once we start thinking about the whole student experience can we evaluate how much space we need.  This may mean fewer classrooms but also more informal social spaces or other environments.  The answer is almost certainly a smaller estate but, if we are preparing for the 21st century, it may also need to be a very different estate too.

With Nick Boles’ words fresh in the mind, the Area Reviews may choose to focus upon the quantum, not on the nature or quality, of space required by Colleges.  So before the reviews commence, it may well be worth considering what you really need from your estate to help you meet the challenges ahead.

Roger Newman

Associate Director: Strategic Advice

To discuss how your estate might better support your needs email me at newman@bondbryan.co.uk or call me on 07920 779225 or 0114 2662040.  There is no obligation to go further, it’s my role to be fully informed as to the requirements of the Further Education Sector and I always welcome a conversation!


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