This year in Madrid at our annual Class Conference we delved into the role hyperconnectivity plays in shaping the present and future of student living, redefining how we understand education and ways of learning, and reimagining cities and campuses for young people to grow, and thrive. And of course, we discussed current and future investments that can potentially make the vision of an ideal world for our next generation come true.
When speaking of hyperconnectivity, we explored how spaces, people, organisations, technology, and ideas interact with each other. We looked into what we mean by hyperconnected spaces bought together by integrated technology and the people who find themselves in these spaces (both real and virtual).
What does it mean to be truly connected? Here are our 10 key takeaways from our conference:
- Breaking the 9-5 mould
The youth of today are daring, aspiring and not afraid to take risks. They do not shy away from putting in hard work and dedication not just towards their individual goals, but also for the collective good. We also see a rise in entrepreneurial spirit. If there is an idea, the aim is to make it happen by the bold young minds of today. We see that today’s youth want to be flexible and spontaneous in how they live and where they work and study. Breaking away from the so-called ‘structured’ way of life, being able to move freely, in other words, nomadism, as human behavioural expert Nacho Martin, claims has a positive impact on the person and communities they inhabit. Organisations like Talent Garden with their co-working ‘campuses’ and short courses for young professionals provide avenues by way of space, community building and mentorship for young people who are seeking the freedom to dictate where they work and live.
- The future is circular
On one hand, with advancements in technology and jet-setting trends bouncing back post-pandemic, we are witnessing a rapidly globalised world. On the other hand, we are seeing the aspect of localised hyperconnectivity, following the tenets of a circular economy. For the unaware, one of the key ideas of circular economy is espousing ‘thriving’ businesses over ‘endless growth’ and focusing solely on ROIs. Let us take the example of Denizen, which David Turnbull, the founder, calls “AirBnB for offices”. However, the concept is a lot more than that. Denizen allows for organisations/people with ‘dead’ (unused) spaces to rent them out to local groups for gatherings and young people leading start-ups looking for a place to work. Everything, from food to drinks to employees maintaining these spaces, is local. In this way, local economies are thriving, local unused places are given a purpose, and local communities are being built.
- Retention and mobility; two sides of the same coin?
Our panellists with their expertise ranging from urban regeneration, city planning and architecture spoke at length about making cities more accessible and inviting to young talent. The importance of affordable, quality housing, sustainable and sustainably run infrastructure, good quality and economic public transport, pedestrian spaces, open, green areas, and cultural hubs are crucial aspects besides professional, research, and innovation/start-up opportunities when we speak of future university cities. Cities must model themselves to be not just hubs of innovation but also inclusive cultural places open to diversity.
However, as noted previously, today’s youth want to be mobile. So, while on one hand, we want cities to be able to retain talent, we also need to reimagine the cities as ‘fluid’ that promote mobility for young people. Imagine an Erasmus Exchange model for young professionals and digital nomads! Spain is a great example where the government has extended the duration of the nomad visa for non-EU people and made it easy for them to extend the visa if they want. So while cities need to be wholesome on their own, they also must strive to be open to talent exchange and not entirely focussed on keeping bright minds locked in.
- Hear ’em out
Luca Ballarini, the founder of Torino Stratosferica, in his inspiring talk, highlighted that when we speak of building ideal university cities of the future, we must get the youth involved. Ask them what they want. What do they wish the city to do for them?
Students are largely seen by local residences and city governance as transient beings, who are not here to stay for the long term. In other words, they are not typically considered part of the local community whose opinions deserve to be sought out. Luca argues that students, including internationals, are extremely passionate about contributing to the cultural and urban regeneration of their host cities. Best suggestions can come from the wildest and freshest ideas from global students who bring their unique worldviews from their cultures and past lived experiences.
Therefore, it is important to create open-minded vibrant cities because students not just contribute to the economy and social life but their ideas and suggestions can be valuable for future designers and planners. This a great asset that cities have that remains untapped.
- Campus as a ‘third space’ for the anytime, anywhere.
Our speakers in the “Reconsidering the Campus” panel really did reconsider and redefine the campus! Cristina Mateo Rebollo, Associate Dean, IE School of Architecture and Design, spoke of the campus as a virtual and informal space of interaction and community building, as learning is redefined and it takes place beyond the physical campus, anytime anywhere. The idea of turning campuses into third spaces is nothing new. Architecture firms have already worked on designing the so-called campus of the future (UN Studio is designing the TU Delft, the University of Technology in the Netherlands, which is amongst a few). This concept of the campus aims at offering flexible ways of learning and emphasizing in-between spaces.
Disruption regarding urban campuses has come from moving the physical campus as a symbolic place to interact and belong, to a virtual immersive, informal context, questioning traditional links with peers, faculty and staff and alumni (their community to be).
- Blending in: the campus and the city
According to Eleonora Guardini, Sales and Marketing Director at Resa, although campuses continue to be seen as fascinating micro-world of their own, it is crucial to not see them as an isolated space bubble from the city itself. While certain campuses are physically better integrated into cities because they are simply built inside the city, many which are more on the outskirts (or at the time middle of nowhere) run the risk of being a world enclosed within itself. No matter how wonderful that world is, we must note that it is important for students to have access to communities outside to have a sense of belonging. This can further shape their purpose and ambition regarding staying back in their host cities. Furthermore, the holistic incorporation of campus into the city requires developing ties beyond the obvious physical context. This means thinking also about locally present and virtual communities, expanding academic, professional and stakeholder networks, (institutional and well as private), such as city councils, NGOs, as well as private partners, thinking alongside (and beyond) the host city and the local community, and not forgetting about them.
- A laboratory for green experiments
Nuno Fideles, the associate architect at Savills and BREEAM AP & Sustainability consultant claims that to build a university campus, is to build a city, and can clearly be a tool and a laboratory to find energy-conscious and sustainable solutions to implement on a large scale in our cities. Keeping in mind, the hyperconnected aspect of people to spaces, Nuno spoke of how students should be the focus of new buildings, as they spend most of their time inside them, and therefore building healthy buildings should be a starting point for a more sustainable world, educating the generations that inhabit them to be more sustainable and conscious themselves.
Mobility, green infrastructures, engagement tools, and user experiences, are platforms that worked in a holistic hyper-connected way can and should promote solutions for sustainability and well-being, helping in the path of decarbonisation, whether at the scale of a building, a campus, or a city.
- University and PBSA collaborate to enhance student living.
While universities and many student accommodation providers have very intensive and thorough well-being programmes and community-building initiatives on their own, the way forward is for these two key stakeholders primarily responsible for shaping the overall personal, academic and professional experiences for the students to collaborate more and better. Further, leading PBSA providers such as Resa, Nido, The Social Hub (previously The Student Hotel), Yugo and MiCampus residencies put their heads to speak of how to deliver a great experience for students beyond and outside the walls of the university. PBSA is now a lot more than just a place to sleep and study; these are homes for students whose well-being and growth are of utmost priority.
As a way to enhance student living, PBSA providers stress the need of being carbon literate in their practices. Further, they strongly believe in involving the current and future generation of students (who are deeply climate conscious) in actively shaping and playing a role in sustainable initiatives, and in identifying ways in which students can live, and providers can operate, sustainably. The target is to future-proof PBSA buildings, university cities and campuses in collaboration with students, and the wheels are already in motion.
Finally, both the university and operators (and even the city council) must come together to have aligned goals and shared initiatives around making students feel included in their host cities, to foster a community that is pluralistic and welcoming, to help them not only make new friendships but also support them with their professional aspirations by holding job orientation seminars, connecting them local and global businesses and so on.
- ‘We are here for you’: managing crisis
Clearly, as discussed above, the idea of improving the student experience is unsurprisingly tied to their overall mental, physical and emotional well-being. Our exclusive panel on student well-being consisting of universities with holistic well-being programmes, researchers, psychologists and intercultural experts, spoke of the importance of not just looking at improving student well-being but also being proactive about identifying those who are at risk, and/or hard to reach.
Data shows that minority students, be it because of their race, ethnicity, economic background, physical appearance/being differently-abled, sexual orientation, or learning challenges such as dyslexia are more at risk to be socially isolated, bullied and thus suffer through isolation, low self-esteem, and poor physical health.
First and foremost, our panellists claim that there need to be better tools to break down the stigma around ‘seeking help’ as many students are too ashamed to ask for support.
Secondly, support from professional experts and trained student volunteers must be easy to access and immediate when the need be. Thirdly, there needs to be a clearly defined reporting mechanism for bullying and harassment, and quick-acting, effective protocols in place to respond to complaints. Fourthly, staff, teacher and student sensitivity training should be done on a regular basis. Finally, we must break away from the ‘one size fits all mentality’; all well-being initiatives, no matter how well thought out, may not meet everyone’s needs. Special attention must be given to those who are identified as ‘minority’ students, and accordingly, support should be provided befitting their unique challenges.
In a nutshell, the goal for student well-being, as Robin Walsh, Head of Residential Services at Bournemouth University pointed out should not be to provide great physiologist/therapy services (though that is indeed necessary) but to ensure that students do not reach a stage to be needing these services in the first place.
- Investing in the future generation
So far, we learned about the ways in which we can reimagine, redesign, and create future university cities, campuses, and student accommodations, and provide better services when it comes to student overall health. But where is the money coming from to make it all happen?
The demand for student housing is only to go up as student numbers, both domestic and international, continue to escalate in Europe, and not enough beds are available for them. So investment in PBSAs will continue to rise though the story is not the same everywhere: While investment in Continental Europe is growing exponentially, the UK investment volumes are slowing down – with Q3 volumes down by 22% on a 5-year average.
In Q1-Q3 ’22, 52% of EMEA investment volumes were in Continental Europe, driven by the Basecamp and RESA* deals, and 48% in the UK (its share is expected to rise with the Roost deal expected to close in Q4 ’22) While shares of portfolio and forward-funding deals remained steady, the share of cross-border deals, totally EUR 5.6 billion was up in 2022 to 83% from 67% in 2021. In Q1-Q3 Spain has seen the highest number of investments at EUR 1.3 billion.
Further, the number of JVs announced has doubled compared to pre-pandemic times, allowing global players to enter the European PBSA market, with a focus on the UK, targeting proportionally larger forward-funding projects
Amidst all these impressive numbers, across Europe, rent affordability is becoming a key issue not only in the student sector but the wider residential sector. There is simply a significant undersupply of ‘homes’, especially in the major cities. The under-provision of student accommodation in the majority of continental European countries, including the most mature market of the UK, adds to the pressure on the privately rented residential sector. Reported residential rental growth in some of the unregulated markets is staggeringly high over the last 12 months at between 10-20%, and in some hot spots even higher, due to lack of supply. This has helped student housing to fill at a faster rate than perhaps normal, and this current academic year looks like good value with all-inclusive rents.
The Madrid edition of the Class Conference was jam-packed with innovative ideas for the present and future as we learn from the highs and lows of the past to rethink the ways we can optimise how the youth of today learn, live and grow. How we deploy hyperconnected spaces, and technology to bring young people together, to provide them avenues for success professionally, to create cities and campuses where learning takes place not just from the books but from their environment too. Where, ultimately, all stakeholders, higher education institutes, developers, investors, policymakers, urban planners, architects and operators, come together to create spaces, and initiatives that allow the youth to pursue their dreams, give them the freedom to choose where they live, and how they work.