Well Managed? The latest campus construction project

There have been two holes left in the heart of campus this semester. The first formed in Glynis’ closing days of employment, and the second left in preparation for campus’ next £70 million spend: the new School of Management building. Since the start of this academic year, students may have noticed the ever-deepening hole next to the bus stop. Bath Time has investigated what it’s all about.

cc: University of Bath

Bath’s School of Management currently encompasses roughly 3,000 students, running a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate courses which consistently rank among the world’s best institutions. However, management students and faculty are spread across 8W, The Edge, Wessex House, and East Building, and £70m of investment into a new School of Management building opposite the STV aims to change that. Plans for this building include the construction of:

– Eight lecture theatres and a 250-seat auditorium, for context, Chancellor’s Building lecture theatres hold 350;

– An ‘Employment Hub’ seeking to attract employers and conduct ‘consultancy-style assessments’ for Masters students;

– An ‘Enterprise Zone’;

– A closed office space for faculty staff and some professional services staff;

– Other features including an MBA Suite, an Innovation Lab and a Behavioural Research Lab;

– A café on the ground floor, in order to foster student and academic interaction;

The University have been open in their aims for this building to ‘cement’ their place as a top 50 global business school, with an aim of creating over 100 jobs and bringing in ‘£450 million over 25 years’. This also comes at a time when developing good relationships with employers to facilitate placements is becoming ever more vital, especially to Bath, and investment in infrastructure may be a way to their hearts. Intrigued by the prospect of this grand new build, we explored floor plans and spoke to Professor Hope-Hailey, Dean of the School of Management, to find out more.

Employment Hub

The crown jewel of undergraduate management degree programmes, alongside others at the University, is the placement scheme. Students, particularly in the School of Management, are offered one-to-one support to aid the placement search process, with the team responsible working to maintain relationships with employers that offer these opportunities. Professor Hope-Hailey states that “the employment hope is consolidating the current undergraduate activity … it is also expanding the postgraduate employment activity”. Building on this, it is explained that year-long postgraduate programmes do not offer the scope for as much industry exposure as undergraduate programmes. Professor Hope-Hailey hopes this space will enable the expansion of the programme that enables masters students to solve a practical consultancy problem instead of producing a dissertation.

“If you are dealing with high level employers, they will expect a certain amount of infrastructure”

While much of the discussion was again centered around the benefit this space has to postgraduates, there may also be an improvement in employer relations which are widely depended on by many undergraduates.

Enterprise Zone

One of the more unexpected aspects of the building is the “Enterprise Zone”. To find out more we caught up with Professor Dimov, one of the School’s faculty assigned to the development of the space, to find out more. He stated that the goal is to “provide an incubation space for teams who are ready to take their ideas forward”. This 200m² space will foster the early-stage entrepreneurial ideas of student entrepreneurs over a six month period, in a hope to support budding business people succeed and move to other innovation facilities. It appears the initial idea for this was not one that resulted from meaningful student engagement. Additionally, despite taking up a sizeable portion of the first floor, plans have not progressed past the early stages of conceptualisation. Consultation in these plans has only just begun. In this case, the University reached out to Bath Entrepreneurs, an SU group. Kristina, the chair of the group, views the space as an “incredible opportunity” to further the opportunities available to entrepreneurial students through facilitating incubation. When asked about her involvement with the group working on this space, Kristina stated that it was ‘polite to be invited’ and that she was grateful she that her opinions were considered, although she later added that the level of engagement “isn’t amazing”, and highlighting her view that it is “fair that students don’t decide”.

Facilities for Postgraduates

One theme remained clear in our conversation with Professor Hope-Hailey: this building was created with postgraduate students in mind. This could not be more clear than when looking at the floor plans. 7 rooms are reserved exclusively for postgraduate study or teaching, a Masters student lounge featuring breakout rooms and a kitchenette, and a behavioural research lab. This is inadvertently justified by the Professor’s claims that current students are not financing the loan being used for this construction, and, in fact, “when the building is finished … we will be using postgraduate fees not undergraduate fees to fund that”, this undoubtedly being made possible by postgraduate fees significantly exceeding those paid by undergraduates. We later discovered the facts are slightly more complicated, the hope is that the repayments on the loan for the building will be enabled by fees from increased postgraduate activity. However, this building does claim a portion of the Universities remaining land that is suitable for development, posing the question, where will future undergraduate infrastructure be placed?

Offices

Examining the floor plan, it is clear a substantial amount of total floorspace space (12%) has been dedicated to closed offices, a shift back from the open plan offices many faculty and other staff are now situated in across East Building. Professor Hope-Hailey justified the space allotted to offices through the convenience of having the entire school in one place, as opposed to the current spread across four different campus buildings. Closed office space was explained through the necessity to provide quality spaces for academics to work and research, otherwise Professor Hope-Hailey fears that our world class faculty would be lost. Further, she explained that due to the nature of the school’s subject area, there wouldn’t be lab space or other types of study space, so by offering the academic staff space in which to work and manage their affairs, they can enhance their interaction with students.

Currently, Management faculty are spread across 8W, the Edge, Wessex House and East building. When asked about what will happen to these spaces when they are vacated, Professor Hope-Hailey confessed that, upon the arrival of the new building, she doesn’t “know what these buildings we’re vacating will be repurposed to..truly [doesn’t] know what is going to happen” stating that these decisions will be left to the new Vice Chancellor.

It’s worth noting that for many postgraduates, this building will be a welcome addition to provision on campus, especially given the additional doctoral working space which is an issue that features in the SU’s Top Ten this year.

Cafe

Much like the Polden Cafe, the cafe in the new management building will serve as a social space for students and staff alike. When speaking to Professor Hope-Hailey, she highlighted how important a relaxed area is for the networking of staff and students.

Yet again, the rationale for a large portion of space taken up by the cafe and it’s seating area does not appear to have been informed by meaningful student engagement. The student demand for a yet another cafe in which they can meet and discuss their studies with lecturers must be questioned. It’s unclear why planners thought this couldn’t already be done in existing spaces such as 4West cafe, Limetree, the SU, Pitstop, and the recently constructed Polden cafe, many of which remain empty outside of peak lunch hours.

Alongside this, there is an assumption that undergraduates’ requirements for space will be fulfilled by one private study room, a balcony area, and café seating. While some can and do work in spaces like Limetree and 4West cafe, the reason the library is so often crowded is due to students’ need for a formal study space. Will a cafe in an otherwise postgraduate-dominated building meet this demand? As undergraduates are by far the bigger part of the student demographic, it seems misguided to reserve study space in the sizeable new building to a far smaller group. Although there is a real and substantial need for postgraduate space, from speaking to students involved in consultation, we can identify that these glaring issues are consequent of a tokenistic student engagement process that began too late in design processes and fail to substantially gauge student needs. It would appear that the justifications for features like this were not rationales that informed the initial design process but were concocted after the designs were final.

When will it be ready?

The construction project was initially scheduled for completion prior to the start of the academic year 2020/2021. This has now been delayed to 2021. For those who follow campus construction projects, this is unsurprising. Just this academic year, both the gym extension and new Polden accommodation constructions experienced significant delays. In the case of Polden, this left students, who were paying £210 per week, moving into buildings where active construction was still occurring, a similar case occurred with the opening of Quads. Whilst Professor Hope-Hailey does explain 3 months of lost time is accounted for by planning approval delays, the remainder is left unexplained by those at the Department of Estates who are managing the construction of the project. Given Estates’ recent track record, further delays could be possible.

How were students engaged with the process?

In the process of our investigation, Bath Time acquired a list of student engagement activities that took place throughout the course of this project. The first of these occurred in November of 2017 with Jack Kitchen. Upon speaking to Jack, it became clear that this was in fact a routine personal tutor meeting with Professor Brian Square. Jack was not elected to his role as Education Officer at this point. He was the Academic Representative of his BBA cohort but did not attend the meeting in that capacity.

Even after a further meeting in April of 2018, that included a range of student representatives, the quality of student engagement left a lot to be desired. Jack Kitchen, in his capacity as Academic Rep, complained to the School of Management after the meeting, outlining that he believed students had “a lot to offer discussions” surrounding study space, but 15 minutes for groups of up to 17 students to voice their concerns was “somewhat of a push, and there [was] a risk of losing a potentially meaningful, valuable engagement for something tokenistic”.

In response to Jack’s email, he received reassurance that this would be “the first meeting and not the final one”. However there was only one further meeting. In May 2018, a handful of students were invited to hear feedback from the architects of the building. In this meeting, one of the students requested study space to be open to all students – not just postgraduates – and for the chairs chosen to have backs to them. They agreed to the latter.

The list also outlines an ‘Enterprise Committee’, that formed this year and includes Kristina Railaite, chair of Bath Entrepreneurs (an SU group). In our discussion with Kristina, she stated that she felt it was “polite” of the committee to invite her as a student representative, and she welcomed their consideration of her views. However, Kristina stated the level of engagement, and degree to which she is listened to “isn’t amazing”, but she understands that it is “fair that students don’t decide” when it comes to issues surrounding the building.

Our verdict

In many respects, the School of Management building is an ambitious and optimistic project with some features that may excite some students and provides an opportunity to facilitate employer relations that should benefit us all. However. From speaking to those involved with the student engagement processes, it would seem that justifications for the more innovative features were not borne out of meaningful student engagement and consultation. Rather, the rationales for this investment are littered with buzzwords, management speak and flashy accessories that will look good on a prospectus, will appeal to prospective postgraduates, and therefore maximise the School’s potential to become one of the top 50 business schools. Whilst it doesn’t take much to see through the thin veil, it perhaps comes as no surprise that this project is doing everything it can to pander to the market forces of a marketised higher education system where it quite literally is ‘business’ as usual.

Darcey Stickley

Darcey Stickley is a final year Spanish & Politics student and Editor-in-Chief for 2020/1.

Glen Mcalpine

Glen Mcalpine is the Media Officer (2020/21) and was the Editor-in-Chief (2018/19) for Bath Time.

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