Public-private partnerships in addressing student housing shortages: Insights from Italy and the Netherlands

July 10, 2024

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The student housing crisis has become a pressing issue across Europe, exacerbated by increasing student populations, demographic swifts, and urbanisation pressures. Italy and the Netherlands stand out as significant case studies demonstrating the importance of public-private collaboration in addressing this crisis. Two recent government initiatives from these two countries exemplify how government support and private sector involvement can create sustainable solutions for student housing, offering a model for other European nations grappling with similar challenges.


Italy's Strategic Approach: The CDP-MUR Initiative

In Italy, the collaboration between Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) and the Ministry of Universities and Research (MUR) has emerged as a key strategy to tackle the student housing shortage. The Italian government, recognising the urgency of the situation, launched a comprehensive initiative aiming to provide 60,000 new student beds. This initiative, backed by a €1.2 billion investment, demonstrates the government's commitment to improving student living conditions.  As part of this initiative, the government offers a subsidy of €20,000 per bed to incentivise private sector participation. This effort underscores the necessity of governmental support in catalysing private investment and expertise.

The Italian approach is particularly noteworthy for its inclusivity. At least 30% of the new housing units will be reserved for low-income students, ensuring that financial barriers do not impede access to quality education. Furthermore, the remaining units will be offered at rates at least 15% below market value, making student housing more affordable across the board.  

To streamline the process, Italy has introduced several innovative measures. These include the appointment of a Special Commissioner for university housing, simplified procedures for changing building use designations, and tax incentives for property owners. These steps not only facilitate the rapid development of student housing but also make it more attractive for private investors to participate in the initiative.


The Netherlands' Proactive Measures: A €20 Million Commitment

Similarly, the Netherlands has demonstrated a proactive approach to addressing student housing needs through significant financial commitments and regulatory support.  

The Dutch government recently allocated €20 million specifically for the development of student housing. Each municipality can apply for a contribution of up to €8,500 per living space, including VAT compensation, from the scheme for the realization of several small or large projects, up to a maximum of €3 million per project. This funding is part of the National Action Plan for Student Housing, which aims to create 60,000 additional student homes by 2030. The focus is on quickly realisable projects that can provide housing for students within 1 to 2 years to help alleviate the immediate housing shortage for students.

This is an excellent example of the essential role government funding can play in jumpstarting private sector projects that might otherwise be unfeasible due to high initial costs such land value, construction costs or bureaucratic hurdles. The Dutch strategy emphasises the importance of creating a conducive environment for private developers. By providing clear guidelines, streamlining approval processes, and offering financial incentives, the government facilitates the rapid expansion of student housing facilities. This approach not only addresses immediate shortages but also sets the stage for sustainable long-term development.

Lessons for Europe: The Imperative of Collaboration

The experiences of Italy and the Netherlands offer valuable lessons for other European countries facing student housing shortages. Governments must actively engage with the private sector, offering both financial support and regulatory frameworks that encourage investment in student housing through:


1. Financial Incentives: As seen in Italy and the Netherlands, substantial public funding can attract private developers to invest in student housing projects. Subsidies such as the €20,000 per bed in Italy and up to €8,500 per living space in the Netherlands are crucial in making these projects economically viable.

2. Regulatory Support: Simplifying administrative procedures and offering clear, consistent regulations are crucial for the timely execution of housing projects. Governments should aim to reduce bureaucratic red tape that often delays construction and increases costs.

3. Long-Term Vision: Public-private partnerships should be designed with a long-term perspective, ensuring that the infrastructure developed today can meet the needs of future generations. This involves not only constructing new buildings but also maintaining and upgrading existing facilities.

4. Community Engagement: Successful housing projects require the support and involvement of local communities. Transparent communication and collaboration with residents can help mitigate potential opposition and ensure that new developments are integrated smoothly into the urban fabric.


As the demand for higher education continues to grow across Europe, the need for adequate and affordable student housing will only increase. Other European nations can study these models and adapt them to their own contexts, developing partnerships that can help ensure that lack of housing does not become a barrier to educational opportunities.  


As demonstrated by the Italian and Dutch initiatives, such public-private collaborations allow for more rapid development of housing units, brings in additional funding and resources, and often results in more innovative and efficient housing solutions. Moreover, it helps distribute the financial risk associated with large-scale housing projects. In a nutshell, we can claim that when governments provide the right framework and incentives, the private sector can play a crucial role in solving public challenges. As Europe continues to face housing pressures, such collaborative approaches may well be the key to ensuring that students have access to safe, affordable, and quality housing.  


1. "Al via roadshow Cdp-Mur, bando per 60mila posti letto studenti" - Il Sole 24 Ore

2. "Università, ecco il pacchetto housing: procedure semplificate e bando da 1,2 mld" - Ministry of Universities and Research (MUR)

3. "€20 miljoen beschikbaar voor realisatie studentenwoningen" - Volkshuisvesting Nederland

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