Student Housing Conference, May 2018

Pollution-reducing paint, running tracks on roof tops and evolving construction methods were just a few of the fascinating topics discussed at the Student Housing conference in London this week.

But, most importantly, I felt very encouraged and inspired by the positive conversations I had about the sector throughout the day, as well as statistics and predictions for the sector that were presented by experts including James Pullen, Head of Student Property at Knight Frank. He predicted that the number of UK students entering into higher education will grow from 36% today to 41% by 2025.

Furthermore, 5 million students are currently studying outside their home country, a number which is set to grow to 8 million by 2025; and the UK is well positioned to attract these globally mobile students. Currently, 19% of students attending Universities in the UK are international. Notably, he predicted that although the number of students attending UK Universities from the EU may decline, Brexit will not derail the upward trajectory of student growth numbers.

So, what do these numbers mean for the student housing sector? Well, there is already an under-supply of housing for students in UK and the country is in desperate need of more! I was shocked to learn that currently, in the UK, there are approximately 2.9 students competing for each Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) bed space. Of all UK cities (as you would imagine), London has the greatest deficit and the student experience in the capital is said to be the worst in the country. That said, Dr Ghazwa Alwansi-Starr, the University of London’s Director of Property and Facilities Management explicitly stated that London is “open for business” and is keen to find ways of improving the situation whilst ensuring student rents are affordable.

Affordability was a topic of much debate. There seems to be a constant challenge to strike a balance between affordability and providing high-quality living spaces that meet the growing expectations of students. Some ideas for overcoming this challenge included use of evolving construction methods such as modular construction and use of off site manufacturing which brings increased efficiencies and speed of construction; an encouraging notion given that our engineers at Curtins have significant experience and expertise in designing student housing for modular construction. In fact, Curtins are leading the way in design for modular construction in the industry. We have been significantly involved in the introduction of and innovation with prefabricated concrete systems for over 10 years, with projects including the award-winning University Locks in Birmingham and Josephine Butler House (pictured) in Liverpool.

The importance of considering student life styles and preferences in the design of student housing to maximise space was another idea, including building smaller bedrooms and larger, more collaborative communal areas as students are believed to want to spend more time around others than on their own (stated by Martin Hadland, Commercial Director, Campus Living).

Together with the demand for new student housing, I learnt from Jaqui Daly, Director of Savills, that across the UK Build to Rent housing schemes are set to rise due to a generation coming through who cannot afford to buy their own home. These is also an increased appetite for such schemes among graduates, many of whom move to a new city following graduation where they don’t know anyone and want to live in a community setting, like at University.

Although during the conference there was much discussion and concern around the challenge of balancing affordability and quality within the student housing sector; I see this to be a positive challenge for those working in the property industry, including Curtins, who would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with others to develop effective housing design solutions to meet the needs of the student housing and Build to Rent markets.