Despite the fact that the average student debt is in excess of £50k, it is clear that students still see the value in higher education and the majority still choose their university experience based on things other than financial outlay. With such high figures now at steak on a ‘per student’ basis, it is no surprise that the higher education sector is seeing greater and greater marketisation as competition between universities to fill lucrative seats grows and universities seek out new avenues to entice students to their establishment.
The National Union of Students’ ‘Homes Fit For Study’ research project reports that 45% of students claim that the quality of student accommodation plays a part in their choice of institution with 18% identifying this as the key deciding factor. The student experience which has historically been branded a ‘beans on toast’ existence, tolerated for the pursuit of education and enlightenment, has undergone a drastic overhaul in the past five years and today it is clear that the student ‘lifestyle’ is at least as big a draw for many students as a first rate education.
In light of this, it is perhaps unsurprising that in 2016 records were broken for global investment into student accommodation as figures rose over $16bn. Global interest in student accommodation is growing, particularly in the UK where over $5.8bn (£4.5 billion) of investment poured into the sector. The purpose built bed spaces in the UK topped the 600,000 mark for the 2017/18 academic year and shows no sign of slowing down.
The Student Expectation
Students paying in excess of fifty thousand pounds for their university experience have higher expectations than ever before. With first year students still overwhelmingly choosing to live in university halls, the onus is on social spaces and friendship building with exciting and engaging common spaces consistently coming into the top ten demands students have for their living space (with superfast Wifi unsurprisingly taking the top spot in all polls). Exciting common spaces and a top location though continue to play second fiddle to a desire to be able to customise and personalise a space.
Five years ago, the design impetus for student accommodation was bright, white spaces with sleek contemporary finishes. White gloss and glass surfaces were abundant and the modern ‘city living’ style quickly drew students to accommodation. Despite this, the satisfaction rating for purpose built halls remained low and an NUS survey showed that respondents living in halls were least likely to report that their accommodation felt like home.
Students called for comfortable, cosy study areas with notice boards that allowed them to display photographs, tickets, cards and other items that would allow their living space to feel more like home. Sundeala Ltd has seen rising demand for fabric covered pinnable notice boards to accommodate this trend without losing the design led feel.
Now, more than ever, students are acutely aware of the need for security and safety in their living environments. Both of these elements featured heavily in poll responses reviewing areas of importance. Particularly in light of the unfortunate events at Grenfell in the summer of 2017, the 2017/18 academic year saw a greater focus than ever before on the fire safety of student accommodation, with one major provider choosing to replace wall coverings with fire resistant notice boards through over 50,000 rooms across the UK.
The refurbishment and redesign cycle in the student accommodation sector is one of the fastest moving of any building sector as students with their fingers on the pulse of rapidly changing trends can easily consider a three year old design trend ‘outdated’.
Another major consideration in the student accommodation build sector is the growing demand for sustainability from the student sector. Research conducted by student unions showed that over 80% of students want their institution to incorporate and actively promote sustainability, results that remain unchanged over four consecutive years of conducting the study. Sustainable furniture and materials are of paramount importance to the student accommodation market and the use of recycled and recyclable materials create a strong selling point with target audiences.