Moving to university is an exciting time for many, with the opportunity to gain independence and a real view of what life is like in the big wide world.
University enrolment certainly took a hit at the beginning of the pandemic, and this has of course had a knock-on effect on those living in university accommodation. Despite this, UCAS reported a 10% increase in university enrolment in 2021, with some universities even offering additional spaces on high-demand courses. So, what does this mean for the student housing market?
Students typically have a few choices of accommodation when moving away for university in the UK. Halls of residence (PBSA) are a popular choice, offering the opportunity to meet new people on similar courses with shared interests. Another popular option is to look for housing in the private rental sector, however, this is less popular with first-year students on the basis that it is often harder to connect with other students prior to term starting.
Though there are added benefits in the additional security of living in purpose-built student accommodation, it is not the cheapest option and there are only so many spaces available. This being said, with the recent uptake in university admissions we can certainly expect to see some big changes in the student housing property sector in the near future.
A rise in costs – As energy costs are due to surge in April, along with many other living costs, students will undoubtedly be worrying about the knock-on effect on university accommodation prices. Over recent years there has been a steady increase in student housing costs; reaching an average of £7,347 a year, accommodation alone has now overtaken the average student maintenance loan (£6,900).
As a number of industries recover from the aftermath of the pandemic, there are also associated recovery costs. Modifications to student housing developments for improved safety will also increase the overall investments required to bring developments to fruition. While university admissions continue to rise, the competitiveness of student housing will likely increase, meaning there is little option for students but to find a way to subsidise the increase through part-time jobs alongside study. This will, however, ensure that all new safety precautions are taken on board and prioritise creating healthy living spaces for new students.
A large part of this change is due to cost-cutting from education providers. By refocusing their aims on quality of education and research, they have released public provisions to the private sector which in return will serve higher price-points and subsequently higher rents.
Increased health and safety considerations – While university education continues to soar in popularity among the newest generation of school and college leavers, there is an increased demand for high-quality university accommodation.
Purpose-built city-centre locations are extremely popular among students and often a profitable investment for developers because of the peak in demand, however, the risks associated with such buildings are high and so fire safety and general health and safety are high on the agenda.
Fire safety dictates that all communal areas should be checked regularly to ensure smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are functional, as well as ensuring emergency lighting is checked and serviced. Fire doors must comply with FD30s requirements and industry bodies are calling for all PBSA’s to be fitted with sprinkler systems following the Grenfell tragedy.
Other health and safety measures include the vetting of all associated contractors to ensure competency when dealing with inspections and reporting procedures, something that we anticipate will remain at the forefront of PBSA requirements for years to come.
Newly designed collaborative spaces – As well as an increased desire for collaborative spaces for students, there is also an increased desire for privacy. The pandemic has simultaneously driven change for both ends of the spectrum and ultimately encouraged developers to take more responsibility for the opportunities they’re providing residents with to prioritise their health and wellbeing within the bounds of their PBSA.
We anticipate that as a result of this we will see modifications to the designs of PBSA’s to include additional measures for social distancing, such as an increased number of single bedrooms, extra space in double bedrooms and en-suite inclusions.
Prioritised digital transitions – As the student population grows, the landscape of student journeys changes dramatically.
Undoubtedly fast-tracked by the pandemic, online education has risen in popularity and with it comes the demand for increased flexibility from student housing providers. Accommodating the ever-changing expectations of residents with both long and short term lets has been an imperative move to the success of PBSA’s and even privatised student housing. The outcome of this increased flexibility is yet to be understood, but it is thought that this will be a beneficial move in conjunction with improved student accommodation options and safety measures.
The 13th annual Global Student Housing Conference 2022 is being held in London on Wednesday the 11th of May, which will bring together experts across Student Accommodation Property sectors. With an in-depth look into the impact of COVID-19 on student housing globally and a deep dive into the opportunities within the sector in the UK and beyond.
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