Many university employees in the UK are lucky enough to work in campus environments, which often gives them access to green or open space. When Savills undertook its What Workers Want research, 59 per cent of respondents who worked in an education environment said they were ‘highly’ satisfied with their proximity to green/open space, which is much higher than the 44 per cent of other office workers saying the same. 50 per cent of university workers also said that this is an important aspect of their working life.
However, while the majority of employees may be satisfied with this aspect of ‘greeness’ at their university, they are less impressed with the credentials of the buildings they work in: in the same survey only a quarter said they were ‘highly’ satisfied with the current environmental performance of their offices.
This dissatisfaction may well be because many universities are housed in historic buildings which, whether they were built in the 18th century or the 1980s, are likely to be in need of retrofitting to bring them up to the environmental standards expected of new buildings today.
Some universities are undertaking large modernisation programmes to improve their campuses, with many likely to be aiming to improve environmental performance as part of their estate strategy. Data from the Higher Education Funding Council for England shows that capital expenditure in the universities sector totalled £3.8 billion in 2015-16, an increase of 14.5 per cent compared with 2014-15. However, the figures also show that this investment was driven by a small number of universities, with just 18 institutions accounting for 50 per cent of the total.
When there is investment in the built environment, we suspect that the investment is probably focused on improving and providing facilities to help attract potential students, rather than on the back-office areas staff spend the majority of their time in, which could go part of the way to explain the responses to our survey.
But universities should not neglect the environmental performance of less visible work areas, particularly given the importance that staff appear to attach to this. With 92 per cent of education office workers spending the majority of their working time at the office (against 77 per cent of all the office workers surveyed), as opposed to working from home or from serviced office space, ensuring they have an environment that fulfils their expectations will help staff retention.