Gavin Duncan, Managing Director at luxury student accommodation brand, Vita Student, explains why and how university accommodation has evolved.
Since the first university in the UK was established nearly 1,000 years ago they have become institutions with enormous power and a hugely diverse student population.
This transformation has gone hand-in-hand with changing student expectations. Undergraduates are now travelling miles and high tuition fees means they are expecting much better facilities when they get there. This migration means accommodation has become crucial to having a positive university experience.
The extent to which it has changed is obvious when you consider that only 100 years ago tutors at Oxford University refused to install bathing facilities because terms were just eight weeks long so undergraduates ‘wouldn’t need them’.
These days, not only do more than half of students have en-suite bathrooms they also expect additional facilities that will enrich both their academic and social lives.
This has led to a variety of accommodation types, of which there are five main categories:
• Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMOs)
• Parental Homes
• Self-catered University Halls of Residence
• Fully-catered University Halls of Residence
• Private Halls of Residence
People’s stereotypical view is that student accommodation is synonymous with the British 80’s sitcom ‘The Young Ones’ where four undergraduates shared a squalid house. Indeed 50% of students still live in accommodation like this, although the quality and regulation has improved considerably. However the popularity of shared houses is in decline as they do not provide the level of facilities which students are now expecting such as en-suite bathrooms, leisure facilities and large social/work hubs.
Rising tuition fees mean some students are now choosing their university based on its proximity to their family home as it means they can stay with their parents and avoid accommodation fees. However, many people view university as an opportunity to find independence so they wouldn’t even consider this as an option.
University Halls of Residence can be in demand from first-years, but funding challenges have meant that it has been difficult for universities to maintain high standards and ageing kitchens and small bedrooms are now putting many people off. Similarly, fully-catered halls have fallen in popularity, with only 15% of students now choosing them.
Given these options it is no wonder that there has been a rise in private developers building purpose-built schemes. These range in style from shared apartments to bespoke studios, and the slightly more adventurous students can enjoy something a bit different; for example, art students in London can live in converted shipping containers.
The very luxury end of this category is delivered by accommodation brand Vita Student (http://www.vitastudent.com/). The UK-wide developments are designed specifically for students, with free 100mb broadband, Wi-Fi, flat screen smart TVs and high quality kitchenettes and en-suite bathrooms in each studio as standard. Residents will also benefit from communal leisure, study and relaxation facilities designed to help them make the most of their university experience.
The increasing demand for purpose-built accommodation like this has mainly been driven by the influx of overseas students. This is because their families want them to have safe accommodation that encourages their studies and helps them make an easy transition to a foreign country. Recently, we have found that these factors are also starting to appeal to British students and their parents.
Demand for bespoke accommodation looks set to rise, especially as the government has just announced an ambitious strategy to attract almost 90,000 extra overseas university students by 2018.
New organisations dedicated to regulating the industry are also helping to promote the quality of student property. One such company is Unipol Student Homes, a charity working nationally to improve training, standards and professionalism in student housing. To ensure Vita Student consistently meets their standards, one of our directors is on their board of Trustees.
By reviewing the market over the last century it seems as though the stereotypical shared houses will become a thing of the past, with students instead insisting on accommodation that is designed to meet their needs and complement their university life.