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Student housing risks failing to make the grade

Student Accomadation iStock

In theory, purpose built studenta accommodation should be just what's needed to cater to large student populations and ensure a mixed housing stock. But affordability has become a significant issue for UK students, says Rebecca Fieldhouse

Fears that the Brexit vote would make the UK less popular with overseas students have proved largely unfounded.

A weaker pound has made the UK a cost-effective place to study, and the government’s commitment to help fund places for EU students has helped offset concerns.

UK universities remain popular with international students largely because of the quality of teaching and experience they offer. UCAS figures show that the number of overseas students applying for university places in the UK has increased to more than 100,000 for the first time.

International students account for a fifth of students in the UK, but a considerably higher proportion of occupants of privately owned purpose-built student accommodation, according to a study for property consultant JLL.

Student housing operators seem well placed to benefit from the rise in overseas students. But they must balance two often-opposing demands – quality and affordability.  

The overseas market is competitive at a global scale, with students demanding a high standard of accommodation and student experience. Home-grown students, however, feeling the pinch of tuition fees and Brexit, are more driven by affordability.

"International students account for a fifth of students within the UK"

A commitment from the government to ensure that fees and finance arrangements for EU students remain unchanged during any transition period post-Brexit could prove vital if the UK is to be the first choice for foreign students.

In many cities student housing schemes are required to make a financial contribution to affordable housing for local people. But London has gone a step further; the draft New London Plan looks to secure 35 per cent of student accommodation itself as affordable.

London has long been unaffordable and students have simply avoided the capital for years. But with home-grown students opting to stay at home rather than incur high accommodation costs, affordability is clearly becoming a problem outside London. In the Midlands, for example, the cost of self-catered university accommodation can range from £3,000 to £10,000 a year.

How long will it be before other local authorities look to cap or discount rents? Investing in purpose-built student accommodation and the overall student experience will continue to drive student recruitment. But the type of accommodation required by the overseas (quality) versus the home-grown (affordability) market is becoming increasingly polarised.

We need to work together to look at how we better manage assets and bring down the cost of providing student accommodation, without compromising the student experience.

Rebecca Fieldhouse is an associate director with Indigo

Photo | iStock


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