Reasons why universities should monitor their space use

20 October 2017      Cheryl Pick, Projects and Engagement Manager

With strict budgets and high targets, universities should be innovating and leading the way with efficient use of their space.

After employees, a university’s estate is its second largest area of expenditure, accounting for on average 20% of its outlay. It would surely make sense then, that for such a large portion of a university’s funds, the management of how physical space is being used would be constantly measured, reviewed and adapted. As something which has the potential to positively impact student experiences, maximising the utilisation of teaching spaces must be of paramount importance. Even more so at a time when university applicants are down for the first time since 2012, causing universities to compete with each other for applicants in ever more innovative ways.

From examining university policies, it is clear many universities are conducting manual space audit surveys to measure their use of space. These come in a variety of forms. Some universities bring in external specialists to handle the process, being cost intensive. While some universities employ students, or staff from the estates department, to physically go around recording room usage on a tablet computer - leaving the possibility for human error. Furthermore, universities generally tend to conduct such surveys over a week-long period only once or twice a semester.

Speaking to one prominent university, despite what was said both on their website and on policy documents, they explained how they don’t conduct any space audits at all.

The following is an outline of both the cost of not continuously monitoring space usage, as well as the benefits that can be experienced from doing so effectively.  

Cost of not doing it:

  1. 1.       Wasted Resources

It may seem obvious to mention, but for example having one seminar room over filled while another is empty is a huge case of inefficiency. Not having a continuous method of monitoring the use of space may lead to timetabling issues like this going unnoticed. Lights, heating or air-conditioning may be left on, amounting to unnecessary energy consumption, and students’ experiences in the over-populated room may suffer.

This is just one example. Having the systems and tools in place to immediately identify cases of wasted space can enable space planners to respond and find a use for the space, whether that be renting it out to a third party, or being able to more efficiently plan timetables with greater flexibility.

  1. 2.       Limited Data

As previously mentioned, many universities who do monitor their space use do so through manual Space Utilisation Surveys.

These types of surveys are labour and cost intensive, heavily relying on the concentration and professionalism of those carrying out the audit. Furthermore, these only provide universities with only a snapshot of data for the week or so long period the survey is undertaken. This kind of data limiting can lead to misrepresentations of space usage, and can make it extremely difficult to identify patterns or trends. This may leave a university less informed when it comes to future planning of their space needs, as any decisions have to be made based on limited data. 

Pros of doing it:

  1. 3.       More Effective Timetable Planning

Increases in the quality and quantity of data gathered allows for better planned timetables. This allows planners to ensure that rooms are always adequate for the class size, rooms are never double booked, and that rooms are left empty (and therefore wasting the space) are kept to a minimum – to name a few examples. Having access to improved data means that timetable planners and space planners can be more agile and flexible when allocating space. Any trends that have been spotted over previous years for certain subjects and certain times of year can be planned for well in advance and dealt with accordingly, before they develop into an issue.

  1. 4.       Cost Savings

As has probably become apparent throughout this piece so far, are the potential for cost savings that are associated with continuously monitoring how space is used. These can come in a variety of forms, from reducing energy costs by being able to turn off air conditioning or heating in unoccupied rooms, to reviewing the need for a building expansion, to reducing admin costs through increased automation of various processes.

Furthermore, the costs that are saved through increased utilisation of space can then be invested in other areas of the university’s operations, allowing for increased investment in academic staff and quality of teaching, research, or university infrastructure.

  1. 5.       More Effective Future Strategic Planning

In large organisations such as universities, it is important that different functions and departments are all working in line with the wider organisation strategy. To do so effectively, it is important that employees are given the best possible tools for the job.

Increasing their ability to respond to changes in the university environment or strategy, means Timetabling and Space Planning can be much more effective in their job. The improved data available can aid tasks such as departmental budget planning and forecasting.  

Ultimately, the above reasons all converge upon the same conclusion - an increase in both staff and student satisfaction. Improved data metrics enable departments to become more agile and flexible, allowing them to respond more effectively and quickly to staff, student, and timetable needs. The associated cost savings can be invested elsewhere to improve the quality of teaching and making the student experience more enjoyable.

So, What Next?

Further benefits of placing greater emphasis on this area of estates management are the opportunities for automating aspects of monitoring space usage, and in particular HVAC management. As an industry that is set to be worth $6 billion within 6 years, intelligent building energy management solutions are rapidly changing the ways organisations are consuming energy.

In cooperation with The University of Technology in Sydney, Axiomatic Technology Ltd have developed a Space Audit System, combined with HVAC controls, enabling universities to make more informed and effective space planning decisions.

The system is primarily made of 2 elements. The first being anonymous overhead people counting sensors, used to count people in and out of a room. These enable universities to monitor the FOU (Frequency/Occupancy/Utilisation) of their teaching spaces all day every day.

The second element is where accelerated savings can be made. OTOVAC® (Occupancy and Timetable Optimised Ventilation and Aircon Control) by Axiomatic Technology, automatically imports the university timetable on to a server connected to the HVAC network. The system will then pass BACnet commands to a controller it readiness for the timetabled event, ensuring that the room is comfortable for users on arrival.

The win-win scenario when this combination is used, is if the overhead counting sensor does not detect entrance activity at the start of timetabled event we can trigger the HVAC for the booked room to be switched off - and a no-show or under-utilised room can be reported.

The integrated OTOVAC® solution means that the HVAC is optimised by occupancy – when people are in the room, and by the timetable – when people are expected in the room. OTOVAC® delivers the two key requirements, namely a comfortable room when people arrive, and energy savings when no-one is there.

For more information on Axiomatic Technology or the Space Audit System, call 0115 8757505, email, or go online to

Axiomatic TechnologyAbout Axiomatic technology

We strive to help universities make more informed and effective space planning decisions. We are able to provide them with more meaningful data on existing space use, quickly identifying wasted space and under performing rooms. This results in space planning professionals being able to amend their plan to allocate university space resources more effectively, with the potential to reduce energy consumption. Flexibility and agility are key when planning. We give our users the tools they need to effectively adapt and coordinate the wider university strategy – positively impacting both student and staff experience.  

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