Build and they will come

Or better not to build at all?

The Chronicle has an entertaining piece about an unusual problem faced by Belmont University:

The institution’s board of directors recently approved $48-million for a five-story building with five levels of underground parking. But according to The Tennessean newspaper, “its purpose is a big question mark.” President Bob Fisher is going to leave it to the students and faculty to figure out what to do with it.

This week at his annual welcome convocation, President Fisher invited members of each academic discipline to begin thinking about what they could do in the new facility that they can’t do in their current quarters.

A wonderful proposition. But unlikely to be replicated in the UK anytime soon.

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“Universities are crumbling”…

…according to a “secret database”

The Guardian claims a bit of a scoop following a Freedom of Information request on building conditions in universities:

Scores of university halls of residences and lecture theatres in the UK were judged “at serious risk of major failure or breakdown” and “unfit for purpose”, a secret database obtained after a legal battle by the Guardian reveals. Some of the most popular, high-ranking institutions, such as the London School of Economics, had 41% of their lecture theatres and classrooms deemed unsuitable for current use, while Imperial ­College London had 12% of its non-residential buildings branded “inoperable”. At City University, 41% of the student digs were judged unfit for purpose. Universities argue they have spent hundreds of millions in refurbishment since the judgments were made two years ago and use some of the buildings for storage purposes only.

Large amounts have been spent on capital improvements in the last few years but the backlog, following years of underfunding and neglect, was substantial. The position will undoubtedly have improved further since the survey referred to here but it is inevitable that there will still be poor building stock around the country. So, not clear what the shock is here.

The government agency that holds the information, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), was forced to reveal it after an information tribunal ruled in the Guardian’s favour, agreeing that it was in the public’s interest for the data to be made public.

It looks like then that the difficulty of securing release of the information became the story here rather than the data itself which, whilst disappointing, is not exactly surprising.