More elbow room a must

Your leader about forcing academics into open-plan offices concentrates on the problems such arrangements cause for the health and well-being of staff ("Mavericks won't be corralled", 13 May).

I have worked in a variety of organisations - in a university, in industry and in the public sector - and always in open-plan offices. Outside the academy, I found such arrangements acceptable and indeed preferable, not least because of their sociability.

However, it is my belief, as one no longer directly affected, that for academics as opposed to administrative staff, open-plan offices and the inadequate work space they offer will seriously harm performance.

Open-plan desks say much about the reduced social (and therefore intellectual) authority of most academics. They also show how the provision of individual and small- group teaching and advice, which used to take place largely in lecturers' individual offices, has declined because of rising student numbers, despite its importance for learning.

In relation to research, my experience is that university staff have long been given inadequate space for books and research material. Too many published papers demonstrate the results, in particular inadequate references to previous work.

Before anybody claims that I am overlooking new technology, in my experience computers generate paperwork, not save it.

Academics have long used their homes for work, including the storage of books and papers. In the past, even junior lecturers could afford quite substantial houses. But I am all too aware from personal experience that such work practices often had adverse effects on family welfare. In any case, few university staff can now afford such lifestyles today.

The truth is that academics need more work space than most office staff. Administrators who economise by pretending otherwise are damaging the quality of our universities.

Frederic Stansfield, Kent.

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented

  • Man measuring bar graphs with tape measure

An Elsevier analysis explores the viability of a ‘smarter and cheaper’ model

  • David Willetts

The former universities minister discusses the reforms that reshaped higher education and his first steps into academia

  • Man holding a box filled with work-related items

Refusal by John Allen to obey instruction from manager at Queen Mary University of London led to his sacking, tribunal rules

  • A black and white crowd scene with a few people highlighted

What are the key issues local union branches are dealing with, and how do they manage relationships with institutions in what many activists argue is an increasingly confrontational environment?

  • Muslim woman at graduation ceremony, Barbican, London

Sector called on to embrace faith-related concerns in intellectual debates