Jock's Backroom Blog

Views from the Backroom, and the Classroom, at Oxford Brookes University

Paying for Space…

Posted by Jock Coats on December 15th, 2009

One of the most frequently asked questions from colleagues to me as a governor goes along the lines of “how can we justify the expenditure on Space To Think?” or sometimes “how are we able to afford the money for Space to Think?” usually accompanied by “with these cuts are we just robbing Peter to pay Paul?”

Artist's impression of the latest design for the New Library and Teaching Building

Artist's Impression of the latest designs for the New Library and Teaching Building.

Well, one thing of which you can be certain is that the Board of Governors, whose primary responsibility is to ensure the financial stability of the university, would not take any decisions that we felt would in any way put that at risk. The current round of savings being proposed that each school and directorate must meet over the next few years are actually nothing to do with the Space to Think costs. The university has shown that it can make healthy enough surpluses at present to be able to afford the portion of the cost we are likely to want to borrow. They are primarily related to two issues – that we want to have the financial capacity to invest in areas that will help us achieve the goals of the emerging 20:20 University Strategy, and a recognition that there are leaner times ahead for all universities as a result of likely funding changes in what we are being hinted at is going to be a difficult few years of public spending.

But the main point is that we consider that we cannot not spend money on the estate. We are increasingly aware that our current buildings simply do not match up to peoples’ expectations, especially when they have visited the many other institutions that have spent considerable sums creating bright new campus facilities which match better the contemporary needs of students and and the teaching environment. In any case much of the funding will actually come from our ability to save substantial sums on expensive planned maintenance on other existing buildings that will be put out of action by the new spaces. Over the lifetime of the Masterplan it is expected that we will be able to lose around a third of the existing floor space as the new building will be able to be used more efficiently than some of our current grossly underused space (our average space usage is as low as 16% in the current estate – think what that means in terms of energy costs and maintenance to keep spaces open all the time when they are used so little for example);

But yes, there will be borrowing to pay for it: borrowing that will likely cost us less per year than maintaining those wasted spaces. There will be another round of scrutiny by governors and the Audit and Finance and Resources committee in particular owing to the unexpected delay caused by having to redesign the building to get it through planning, probably in the autumn, before any final commitment is made.