The UK Student Accommodation Conference Round-Up

The Build Environment Network

Student Accommodation Conference

StarRez recently attended an insightful conference discussing findings and experiences within the UK over the last 12 months within the Student Accommodation sector. We saw some innovative ways in which sector colleagues are approaching resident life moving forward and wanted to highlight some of our learnings.

The last year has seen a focus more on domestic markets, a reflection on the traditional university units and how they can sustain their desirability in the sector through Joint venture redevelopment, and a greater emphasis on the overall student experience as well as wellbeing, mental health and ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance).

Findings from Cushman & Wakefield found that ‘First generation student beds’ are predominantly very outdated spaces that can be harder to fill and don’t stand up well against the newer PBSA beds on the market. First generation beds equate to around 200,405 which is 85% university owned and in order to refurbish these beds to the same standard of PBSA providers the sector would be required to invest 2-4 billion.

Moving forward, there is a desire for universities to focus more on their core which is the education side, and this is where investors and sector colleagues see Joint venture projects between universities and private sector providers the most viable option to repurpose these beds over time. With demand still currently two students per available bed across the UK, there is still room for further supply to come into the market.

All of the top 10 Student Accommodation in the UK providers offer programs and/or events as well as mental health platforms to support their residents. Mental health and student wellbeing is clearly at the forefront of mainstream discussions within this sector. Joanne Pollard, Managing Director from Prime Student Living, highlighted some of the initiatives that they implemented over the last twelve months to support their students, including obtaining market safety from the British Safety Council, rethinking their communal area designs, and looking at making areas multifunctional (such as the use of outside spaces) in order to promote positive mental wellbeing for their residents. They also revisited their tenancy offerings with a more flexible approach and realized that a head office is no longer required and are now looking forward to more shared spaces that they can use for internal meetings.

Different operators also took individual approaches with their students in response to the pandemic, with some larger organizations offering refunds or at least partial refunds. We also saw providers offering students later check in or extended summer stays.

Overall, we believe that there is a lot that we can learn from the last twelve months and there is certainly a lot of change to look forward to in the coming years. The pandemic has forced us to become more creative and think about the positive changes that can be made as a whole and to ensure we continue to deliver an enriched student experience for all of our students across the globe.


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