Sharing the academic space
In the course of the past few days I have come across three universities in these islands which have introduced or are planning to introduce open plan offices for academic staff. There have in the past been other reports – including this one in Times Higher Education – about such initiatives.
It is of course not just an issue of space planning on a campus; it is about understanding academic working methods, and seeing whether these can or should be adjusted in order to produce better results. Some argue that individual office space is vital for maintaining the right atmosphere for scholarship, and for privacy and confidentiality in meeting with students. Others argue that open plan arrangements prompt better interaction between groups of academics and allow easier accommodation for academics who do not need full-time space.
Actually, this is not solely an academic question. Research conducted at Cornell University shows that it is a complex issue in many other organisations also. Nevertheless, as higher education reform keeps turning up on the political agenda, an understanding of how the academic profession can best meet its objectives and what physical space works best for this would be helpful. Changing established working practices without such an understanding could undermine academic performance. On the other hand, it may well be that not every academic group would adopt the same view: it may depend on the nature of the work, the subject area, the existence or otherwise of integrated teams, and so forth. It is probably time for more analysis to be done on this topic.