Student accommodation is big business. James Pullan, global head of student property at Knight Frank, has predicted that there will be over 29,000 additional purpose built student beds delivered next year; to put that into context, that’s similar to the overall population of Gibraltar. If he’s right, this will be a significant contribution to the UK’s housing shortage, helping to ease the pressure on existing housing stock. How do we make sure what we deliver is right for the student? School Building Editor Joe Bradbury investigates:

There is an overwhelming need for more purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) in Britain. In 2018-19 the number of full-time students outweighed PBSA bed spaces by 3:1. University is becoming accessible for all and subsequently demand for student accommodation has never been higher. UK universities are critically acclaimed worldwide, continuing to attract domestic and international student’s year on year, bringing with them enormous potential for developers.

A recent report written by property experts Octopus Real Estate (an active lender in the PBSA market) entitled ‘The student accommodation impact report’ recently suggested that student accommodation will be worth over £50 billion to the UK economy this year… and why not?  The sector is well-researched on the investor and developer front, with a large body of analysis from think tanks, agents and law firms. However, it seems that real changes are being driven by the attitudes of the end customer – the students themselves. These are the people who care most about the design of their living space.

Studies reveal that demand is high and funding is available. Both of these facts are enough to get any budding developer excited, but in order to make sure they get this right it is crucial to understand what students need from PBSA.

The Octopus report, which focuses on student needs, stems from research commissioned through a survey of over 1,000 students aged 18 to 25. Participants currently attend, or have completed, an undergraduate degree at a British university.

The report cannot seem to stress enough the sheer importance of decent accommodation to students, which is proven to greatly influence academic results and the entire university experience itself. In turn, it highlights the opportunity for developers who can meet students’ requirements.

Here are the findings:

  • Better accommodation makes for higher grades

Many students are aware of the importance of high-quality accommodation in creating the right environment for studying and achieving their goals. Those who lived in PBSA are more likely to report top grades. Similarly, many post-graduates feel that they should have chosen different accommodation for higher results. 

  • PBSA is best for student wellbeing

There’s a link between quality of accommodation and university experience, and students know it. From their first to third year, students are more likely to be satisfied with their wellbeing, if they’re living in PBSA, in comparison to halls of residence. 

  • Students prioritise technology

Technology is a must, especially as our research shows it’s directly related to results. Those who achieve top grades are more likely to have prioritised technology when choosing their accommodation. International students place great importance on it, while all rate technology in PBSA highly.

  • UK vs. international students: different priorities

With international students a key segment, their choices can’t be ignored. From the outset, international students are more likely than British students to focus on accommodation when choosing a university, considering how it can affect their results. This continues to apply in each year of study. 

  • Students will pay more for extra facilities

Crucially for developers, extra facilities are highly desirable to many students. These range from a private bathroom, to their own cooking facilities, to access to a gym or swimming pool. Students are willing to pay more for these, indicating ongoing demand for better PBSA.

It’s clear that UK-based students recognise the role of PBSA in how much they enjoy university and how well they do in their degree. As a result they have very specific requirements when it comes to choosing where they live.

Students want space and privacy to study, a technology-enabled environment, and facilities that enhance their independence and wellbeing. Developers who can meet these requirements will be well placed to capitalise on student demand.

To find out more, we spoke to undergraduate student Grace Dalaigh, who is studying philosophy at the University of Nottingham:

  1. Q) Grace, how do you think the condition of student accommodation can affect the overall university experience?
  2. A) I think that the condition of university accommodation is an obvious step down from the snug, home life that most of us are provided with. In a sense, it makes you value your own space as something to respect and look after though. It teaches you to make the best of what you have. I don’t like how every room is the same in most accommodations- it feels so clinical and inexpressive; so if you’re a creative soul, you need to find other avenues to explore!
  3. Q) What are you ideally looking for when it comes to student accommodation?
  4. A) As a student, I wanted the full experience. So I wanted a good social space to chat to friends while cooking dinner etc. Personally, I wasn’t bothered about an en-suite bathroom but good views from the window is always nice… as a student it’s easy to forget the little things which you need to keep yourself calm and nature is that for me.
  5. Q) Any words of advice for developers of purpose-built student accommodation on how they can improve the service they offer?
  6. A) As I said before, nature is vital. Having a green space would be perfect outside the place as a space to play football or throw a ball around. That was so important to me. Also I would say, plenty of Power Points and some good amount of storage! Students often have a mix of work and hobbies so plenty of space for electronics is vital and spaces to put your books as well as other hobby supplies is as well!

In summary

It’s clear to see that student accommodation impacts greatly on undergraduate performance. The Octopus report indicates a clear correlation between academic achievement and the place where students live, with PBSA tending to make for higher results. There is also a positive link between PBSA and overall student wellbeing, with UK and international students valuing PBSA as an accommodation option throughout university.

The demand for accommodation, coupled with its make-or-break nature on the student experience, spells fantastic opportunity for construction professionals who specialise within this niche area of our industry. Whilst political outcomes could affect the numbers of international students in the UK, PBSA continues to be popular and can improve the overall student experience – a win-win for developers!

…and if you are a developer of PBSA looking for inspiration, do yourself a favour and ask a student.


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