In our first regional forum of the year, we explored key insights on the Nordic region, where we explored the norms of Nordic individualism, and how alternative living options in the market focused on community are contributing to a cultural shift.
We first delved into hard facts and data in the Nordic PBSA market in terms of investments, projected growth and yields, while our panel discussions kept the idea of student wellbeing and community as the core of their conversations. Despite individualism being the accepted norm in Nordic countries to varying extents, loneliness has also become a widespread issue and we sought to explore the solutions different stakeholders (HEI, investors, housing operators) can bring to the table. Here are the five takeaways from our Nordic forum:
- MOVING AWAY FROM INDIVIDUALISM AS THE STUDENT POPULATION DIVERSIFIES
The data insight by Sid Hussain, OCM Associate from Savills revealed growing student populations across all countries in the region, with Sweden having the largest and experiencing the most growth. Copenhagen has the largest population of students with many of these students being international and domestically mobile (amounting to nearly 50%).
As more international students come to study in the region, many are met with a cultural environment that is not very conducive to making friends and end up lonely as a result. For example, the co-founder and CEO of COLIVE, Katarina Liljestam Beyer mentions that Sweden ranks second to last when it comes to making friends for both locals and internationals. The other Nordic countries also do not rank much higher. Our speakers identified that the difficulty of forming/finding a community, which then leads to loneliness (along with cultural alienation for those coming from far-off places) is detrimental to students’ well-being, which must be looked into and solutions must be sought.
- EQUITY VS EQUALITY
Sandra Slotte, who is the Head of Sustainable Career Support at Arcada University of Applied Sciences in Finland brought the higher education perspective, explaining that universities have started to focus on student wellbeing since the pandemic. Now it is up to higher education institutions to provide more than just education; they need to listen to students’ needs, increase their support services, and understand that not every student will experience the same challenges.
Further, Sandra mentioned that the Nordics pride themselves on creating an ‘equal’ society, where everyone is treated equally. However, this narrative must change, and the focus should be on equity. It is critical to understand that for instance, international students are not a homogenous group. A European student coming to the Nordics might find it easier to adjust than those coming from very different cultural backgrounds, especially where community is appreciated over privacy/individualism. In such cases, we must identify that not every international student needs ‘equal’ treatment and that some may require more help than others.
- COLLABORATION IS KEY
Darren Gardner, COO of Nido student and Natalia Nikola, Head of Serviced Living / Nelio Concepts at NREP elaborated on the nature of stakeholder collaborations in their regional markets, Denmark and Norway. Universities do look for agreements with student accommodation providers. It was revealed that these partnerships are kept very transactional and professional, where ancillary services on wellbeing and communal spaces are not expected but welcomed. Though these collaborations are still kept largely transactional, this very aspect leads to the relative ease of moving into these markets compared to other places in Europe. Further, such collaborations have also encouraged cooperation and dialogue between municipalities, universities, and PBSA, especially on the newer trends of community living.
- IMPACT OF RENT CONTROLS
Rent controls and rent caps are implementations common to the region, especially in places such as Sweden, and these controls might be slowing down the adoption of the community living model and communal spaces in general. According to Stina Olen, VD/CEO of Studentbostadsföretagen, rent controls discourage having (large) communal spaces because they make it difficult to charge for these shared areas. Further, as Swedes continue to value their privacy highly, they would rather have more individual space than communal areas. This means that common spaces are not greatly desired (yet), so it becomes a challenge to justify their application. Lobbying actions are being made to deal with this issue in the hopes of making community living a more widespread trend that also turns over a profit.
- SLOW BUT STEADY
Co-living and community-based models are still a new concept in the Nordic countries and the market, according to Katarina, is around 5 years behind compared to the rest of Europe. The current stock is eliciting the most interest from international students or individuals from the region who have lived abroad, thus having experienced different ways of living. However, the pandemic really brought to light the value of community and socialising opportunities, and thus, elevated the interest towards shared living concepts, be it PBSA or co-living.
Katarina adds that though there is a lot of work to be done when it comes to informing people about the value of co-living, a cultural shift is taking place where these alternate living models will be more and more understood, appreciated and sought-after.
All regional markets in the Nordics are seeing an increase in students, both domestic and international. With changing cohorts and cultural norms, the expectations change when it comes to living, learning and thriving. As Sandra astutely claims, we need solutions for students that offer voluntary socialising opportunities, where “they individually can decide how much to engage with others according to their own preferences”. This approach accounts for their need for privacy, the notion of their individual self as well as the desire to have a community if and when needed.
Finally, providing student accommodation is still not seen as a core function of HEIs but something students are responsible to figure out themselves. Such a position is determinantal to HEIs since in the end, students need a place to live and if they are unable to find one which is accessible and affordable, they will likely pick a different university in a different country where they have access to good quality housing. So, if HEIs and the governments want more students coming and thriving in the region, they must work more closely with housing providers to improve the overall student experience, and, putting it in Sandra’s words, “welcome more cooperation and dialogue”.