Student Living in UK: Key Takeaways

April 25, 2023


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Breaking Boundaries and Revolutionising Student Living in the UK: Our 5 highlights from The Class Student Living Forum UK On 20th April, The Class foundation held its first in-person student living forum of 2023 at our partner Osborne Clark’s office in London. Our community of changemakers and leaders across HEI, real state, architecture, design and tech came together to deep dive into what the current landscape looks like regarding student living and experience in the UK, and what can we do to make this better. Here are our 5 highlights from the event:

Does over categorising PBSA hinder innovation?

Yolande Barnes, chiar at Bartlett Real Estate Institute, UCL, claims that it would do the PBSA sector good if it stopped calling itself PBSA and thus putting itself on one end of the residential spectrum. The terminology of PBSA is restrictive to an evolving sector as new forms and ways of living comes up and risk ghettoization and silos. As net zero assets enter the market, it is essential to ensure that they are not boxed into a singular category which may become irrelevant with time. The key is to ensure that assets are flexible in their purpose as living trends evolve. The planning system needs to change to allow for repurposing. The next step forward would be to blend student accommodation with visitor, short stay, young professional accommodation for more efficient land use.  

Urban Campuses as Ecosystems

When we speak of placemaking, the idea of creating urban campuses that operate as ecosystems not only for students but also for the broader community is crucial. We should be looking at the environment level and not just the building level. Placemaking doesn’t mean you build an asset and expect people to come, one needs to steward people to these places. Therefore, one must justify why a certain upcoming development is being done, and how exactly are people, place and purpose tied together. Placemaking isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s inherently tied up in economical success, which then impacts the social and cultural fabric of the place.  

Bridging the Policy Gap

Tim Warring, Senior Director at Quod claims that in the UK, student accommodation is not recognised in policy so there is no proactive policy environment. Currently, when a PBSA development application is made, developers are either left fighting a policy vacuum or a policy environment which is not in favour of PBSA. Thus, one must adopt a positive policy approach as this will allow for a much better product coming through the system. Otherwise, we are fighting against restrictions, which then negatively impacts planning.  

Trends in Demand and Supply: Investment in UK student housing is an all-time high but supply has slowed down; increase in local demand

JLL notes that with an annual record of £8.2bn in investments in 2022 brings total to £49.7bn, with UK accounting for 73% of European volumes. However, there were development deals for 14k beds last year, which are significantly below the five-year average of new supply at 30k beds, thereby pointing to a supply slowdown.  

HousingAnywhere’s data showed that post Brexit and Covid-19, there has been a steep rise in demand for housing from within the UK itself. Post Brexit, understandably, demand has reduced from EU countries such as Italy, France and Spain (which previously were top of the demand list) and now the top countries are UK and the US. Overall, demand for housing in the UK has doubled from 2021 to 2023. This makes affordability a major challenge, especially for students.  

Roadblocks to affordability and limitations in meeting varying student needs  

One of the main roadblocks to affordability is the focus is on delivering high end products, targeting towards international students who have a higher budget. Furthermore, investors want to hear and see the best return on investment especially due to cost of energy and constructions escalating and this results in higher rents. Finally, policy framework such as the London Plan for example are making it difficult to build and deliver affordable housing for students.  

It is also crucial to diversify the portfolio of PBSA offerings as many incoming students are now postgraduates with partners and families who require and expect a different form of housing as opposed to traditional university halls and dorms.

Finally in the words of our co-founder, Frank Uffen “We need to move away from traditional asset classes and recognize the demographic impact of our decisions. Place making is inherently tied up in economics and lack of foresight can limit the potential of our spaces. Let's work towards a more sustainable and innovative approach to shared living.” There is also immense potential for regeneration; a lot of PBSA in regional cities such as Leeds, York, Manchester is replacing rundown parts of the city, thus repurposing the cities in terms of economic, social and cultural value – an exciting and thriving form of placemaking in action whilst we continue to work to elevate student experience.  


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