On the 21st of February, The Class hosted it’s second Student Living Forum of 2023. The session welcomed a speaker line-up that covered not only the movers and shakers of the French PBSA industry (Catella, Axa Investments, Kley Group, and UXCO group) ,but also government and higher education leaders steering French education to an international market, and policies that make it easier to attract and keep talent on the French shores (Campus France and University of Lorraine), and of course giants in property advisors, Savills.
Unsurprisingly, with this lineup, we had a lot to talk about when it comes to figuring out the labyrinth that is the French PBSA market, and how to best navigate it.
Here are our 5 key takeaways from the session:
- Students are flocking to France but housing market is far from catching up: France has the highest student population at 2.97 million. France has been drawing students across the global due to world class yet affordable public universities, rise in English taught courses, the popularity of its culture and destination ,and policies enabling non EU students to stay back to look for work. However, the biggest challenge for these students is finding housing: Only 2 or 3% of students can access quality accommodation, delivered by the operators like Kley and UXCO. CROUS which is the university, government housing, though affordable, occasionally lacks in the quality aspect. While an conscious effort is made to improve this, the progress is slow. A large percentage of beds are owned by the public sector, and very little by the private sector (15%). This is a roadblock of the direct let market.
- All roads no longer lead to Paris: Paris remains extremely popular among domestic and international students alike, but with rising costs of accommodation and living and along with a depletion of good quality available housing options, many students are now exploring other French cities as study destinations especially since non-Parisian universities are also gaining reputation and popularity on home turf as well as globally. University of Lorraine, for example, is home to 62,000 students of which constitutes 9,500 international students, making it a leading French university in Erasmus mobility.
- The Silver lining: The key drivers in French PBSA in 2023 are all things good: The market looks exceptionally positive, and investors now understand the importance of new and upcoming assets that focus on creating student experiences and go beyond providing just a room to live. The drive is to create ‘a community of your own’ as opposed to just have a ‘room of your own’. PBSA product types are evolving where we are seeing a move away from one size fits all rooms to focus on meeting different needs, preferences and budgets of students. There is a slow but sure shift to direct letting. We see emerging co-living trends, where opportunities are made available to students to live in mixed accommodations with young professionals. France is a very mature market in comparison where you can achieve high yields when you take the risk of renting yourself.
- No place to build? Refurbishing is the answer: In France, and especially Paris, it’s quite difficult to find plots in the right locations. Nonetheless, there are a lot of legacy buildings who posit an opportunity to be refurbished into PBSA.
- Listen to the students to know what the areas of focus should be: While students may appreciate extra facilities such as a swimming pool, and gym on-site at their accommodation, their main concern is affordable rents. Following this, the next most important aspect is the location from their place of study as many of the lifestyle facilities are also available on the campus (swimming pools, gyms, socialising events etc.). Further, when bringing in ESG into the equation; for the S part, the aim is to provide affordability and tie this with the E part as well by finding solutions (and involving students in them) to bring down energy costs.
Finally, our speakers who together represented the government, HE, investor, developer and operator, all spoke of the importance of multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration. One of the biggest challenges to market growth, as mentioned above, is the lack of land to build, and at good locations. As we know that students in France prefer to live on or near campus, one the possible solutions can be universities leasing their land for investors and developers to deliver student housing for their students. In this manner, the wishes of the students are met, universities take a proactive stand in resolving student housing, and investors and developers are able to offer more housing options for students.