There is a perception that teaching space in universities is a rather scarce resource. However, some studies have revealed that in many institutions it is actually chronically under-used. Often, rooms are occupied only half the time, and even when in use they are often only half full. This is usually measured by the ‘utilization’ which is defined as the percentage of available ‘seat-hours’ that are employed. Within real institutions, studies have shown that this utilization can often take values as low as 20–40%. One consequence of such a low level of utilization is that space managers are under pressure to make more efficient use of the available teaching space. However, better management is hampered because there does not appear to be a good understanding within space management (near-term planning) of why this happens. This is accompanied, within space planning (long-term planning) by a lack of experise on how best to accommodate the expected low utilizations. This motivates our two main goals: (i) To understand the factors that drive down utilizations, (ii) To set up methods to provide better space planning. Here, we provide quantitative evidence that constraints arising from timetabling and location requirements easily have the potential to explain the low utilizations seen in reality. Furthermore, on considering the decision question ‘Can this given set of courses all be allocated in the available teaching space?’ we find that the answer depends on the associated utilization in a way that exhibits threshold behaviour: There is a sharp division between regions in which the answer is ‘almost always yes’ and those of ‘almost always no’. Through analysis and understanding of the space of potential solutions, our work suggests that better use of space within universities will come about through an understanding of the effects of timetabling constraints and when it is statistically likely that it will be possible for a set of courses to be allocated to a particular space. The results presented here provide a firm foundation for university managers to take decisions on how space should be managed and planned for more effectively. Our multi-criteria approach and new methodology together provide new insight into the interaction between the course timetabling problem and the crucial issue of space planning.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Management Science and Operations Research
- Management Information Systems
- Strategy and Management