David Kernohan is Acting Editor of Wonkhe

Many congratulations to City, University of London – Wonkhe’s Car Parking University of the Year 2023.

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Unlike competitor rankings, our world-leading parking league table is straightforward and focused laser-like on the issues that matter. We calculate the demand for parking based on staff and student FTE and modal transport splits from HESA Estates (using regional splits from National Statistics where no provider specific value is available – marked with an asterisk on the table). This is then compared with the number of parking spaces at a provider (again from HESA Estates) to derive an “Eligible Parking Ease Score” – these are then ranked to give us the final table.

Provided that sector submissions to HESA Estates are accurate, this approach provides a precise indication as to how hard it is to find a parking place on campus on any given morning – meaningful and actionable information for those contemplating the purchase of a £900 “hunting license” that doesn’t even guarantee you a space to park.

Parking from home

The rise of remote working and remote learning lend a pandemic colour to the underlying data – which was collected during the 2020-21 cycle during the height of restrictions. Indeed, providers were offered a three-month deadline extension for this (optional in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland) collection – though just 134 of 282 providers returned data, and just 122 made the all-important submission regarding campus parking spaces.

Of the data that was returned, we can see evidence of a decline in the sector parking estate, despite demand largely remaining constant. Notably our two top ranked providers achieved their lofty positions by removing capacity alongside a sharp drop in demand – pity instead poor Sheffield which saw a comparably sized estate adjustment happen alongside a substantial growth in the need for parking spaces.

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How much demand for parking will bounce back in the “new normal” is already a serious topic of discussion at board and senior management meetings up and down the country.

Parking data as regulatory data?

There’s no Universities (Car Parking) Bill on the horizon. Parking data will not feature in Data Futures – the dream of real time capacity analysis is unlikely to be realised over any time frame. Neither will there be questions on parking in any future NSS – despite this information being of substantial practical use to providers and applicants.

But parking infrastructure failures have a huge impact on staff conditions of employment, exacerbate peaks in student recruitment putting a strain on the campus, indicate a lack of funds to invest in new resources – university parking is an important lens onto some of the critical issues facing universities everywhere. Information about campus attendance could offer a useful perspective on student attitudes to blended provision and staff working patterns.

The cost of parking

And we can’t talk about parking without talking about the environment. On a basic level, universities – and indeed everyone – is trying to cut down on the use of private cars. Commuting as the only occupant of a car contributes to pollution and congestion, and (in these days of rising energy prices) is becoming increasingly unaffordable. However, the availability of accessible alternatives is patchy at best – and fuel price rises will also have an impact on the cost of travel by train or bus. Energy prices will also have an impact on the provision of electric car charging stations on campus.

Cutting down on parking provision could be seen as crude nudge towards more worthy approaches to getting to the campus, but it also puts pressure on other local infrastructure and may make it harder for some staff and local students to attend at all. Universities have begun to address the demand side with the provision of mass transport, or loans for season tickets and cycles, but in some cases the car is the only option – and every car needs a space.

Rankings controversy

You may have spotted a strong showing in this year’s table from two London universities. On one level, we should not be surprised by this: car travel is less common in the capital (not least because public transport provision is far better in many parts of London) so you would expect demand to be lower.

But in 2020-21 both City and Westminster reported near-zero demand from staff and students, slashing the demand calculation value from the previous year. The coding manual does suggest that pre-pandemic data should be used for this field, implying that a survey conducted before March 2020 was analysed and submitted to HESA in early 2022.

There’s no grounds to think either provider has deliberately submitted ineligible data solely to climb the car parking league table, and any visits from the Office for Students Reportable Event Rapid Response Unit helicopter as a result would – in our view – be an overreaction.

But the whole thing does remind us that these are optional fields in optional data (outside Wales), and that a lack of regulatory use means that data quality will inevitably decay. It’s a good thing this data isn’t the sole means by which we can examine sector emissions and energy use, isn’t it?

Note to commenters – we may not, in fact, take this ranking or our commentary entirely seriously.

Previous exciting instalments: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019.

5 responses to “Fixed penalty notice: The Wonkhe University Car Parking League Table 2023

  1. It would be interesting to know what, if anything, car owners are charged for parking and if staff who get free parking, declare this as income on their tax returns.

    Durham seems to have over 50% of the parking spaces in the city!

    1. I’m curious as to where the numbers for Durham are coming from! As a Durham local, I imagine that private car parks, run by either private companies or the city are being considered in this calculation, which I don’t really think is the best reflection of what institutions can offer.

      1. The data comes from higher education provider annual returns to the HESA Estates Management collection.

  2. I’ve worked for a number of different institutions and there are many variables I’ve experienced that are not shown. It is also worth noting that certain areas restrict the amount of parking spaces that any city-centre employers can provide.
    Some universities, actively do not allow/provide parking for students unless there is a mobility requirement. Others further restrict parking for staff to those who live a certain mileage outside the location and no/limited public transport is available, for those with mobility issues, in a car share, or where time- or car-based caring responsibilities are required (eg taking a child to/from school).
    Then there is the payment for parking. Some have free but first-come-first-serve policies where others have fixed yearly payment or a voucher/pay-on-parking options.
    Finally there is the matter of location and local alternative transport options. A university in a rural setting, may have less competition for parking locally, ie not on site, but have fewer public transport options. Some also provide a free or subsidised bus service. For those encouraging cycling, provision or secure cycle parks and showering facilities are also considerations.
    I appreciate this was a low-input analysis but not sure the table above actually tells anyone very much considering the likely variations in the subjects I’ve raised above.

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