Living it up: student accommodation trends

Rebecca Paddick asks two sector experts, what are the latest trends in student living, and how well is higher education meeting demand?

What are students asking for when it comes to their living arrangements?

Nadine Lee, University Partnerships Director, Campus Living Villages: For the most part, students today want exactly the same things they’ve always wanted from their accommodation – a high-quality, safe space to live, where they can study and socialise and make the most of their university experience. But there are some specific preferences emerging which student accommodation providers and universities need to pay attention to.

We recently surveyed over 5,000 students studying in the UK and overseas. One of the surprising things we found was that whilst two thirds (67%) of students in the UK consult their parents when deciding on accommodation – only just over a third (36%) say their parents are very influential to their decision. This suggests that students are looking for a greater sense of independence when choosing their accommodation.

However, although students want independence, they still prefer to live with other flatmates. Studios remain slower to sell than traditional multiple occupancy flats, suggesting students still want to live with others but in a comfortable environment which provides both private and social space. Among second- and third-year students, there is a preference for a more home-style living arrangements, sharing with just three or four other people with living spaces which feature home comforts such as soft furnishings and pictures.

Kate Tomkins, South East Regional Manager, Host: They are expecting more and more for their money. High-speed internet, good communal facilities and excellent customer service tend to be the bare minimum now. In terms of living arrangements in London it depends on the demographic, but I think we are still seeing a significant number of students wanting en suite rooms in shared flats rather than the studio model. Students want a homely environment and communal areas to socialise in, including a quiet study area.

Are there any unusual trends emerging at the moment?

Nadine Lee: Research suggests that being actively engaged with your academic studies has a positive impact on your mental health. This means the connection between the academic and living environments is becoming increasingly important. Universities and accommodation providers are starting to work more closely together to build accommodation that boosts wellbeing, encourages social interactions and contributes positively to a student’s overall university experience.

Do UK students have different accommodation requirements to international students?

Nadine Lee: Interestingly, our recent research found that while three quarters (73%) of students in the UK want to live in flat-style accommodation with others, almost half of students (47%) in Australia say they’d prefer to live alone. Importantly, UK students say they prefer to live with flatmates they are able to choose beforehand.

Kate Tomkins: Yes, I would say that UK students tend to be more flexible with their housing requirements and understand the traditional idea of student accommodation. For example, in London, we see a large number of internationals wanting high-end accommodation and are prepared to pay for it. This is a generalisation though, and there are, of course, exceptions.

How are universities meeting student requirements? Are there any, in your opinion, who are leading the way?

Nadine Lee: The increasing focus on student experience has really helped improve the quality of accommodation available today, and this is something universities are working hard on. Halls are no longer seen as just a place for students to sleep and eat but as homes away from homes, and so universities are thinking more about what students want from their living arrangements and investing in accommodation with better facilities. Many of our conversations with universities are also beginning to include discussions about how we can improve students’ mental wellbeing through building design.

Kate Tomkins: We’re seeing a lot of universities try to update their housing stock, whether it is through selling off old buildings to private companies for PBSA or through the refurbishment of their own buildings. I can’t think of any, though, who are leading the way as such.

How do you think these trends will develop?

Nadine Lee: Given the increased focus on quality, we expect to see accommodation being designed to improve student wellbeing. Student mental health has become a top priority for universities and policymakers alike and this is something which will begin to impact heavily on student accommodation developments. Buildings will be better designed to encourage social interactions, and small things such as lighting will receive greater consideration. There will also be an increased focus on making sure that the staff in student accommodation are equipped to help students access mental health services.

Kate Tomkins: I think that the current pattern of providing high-end, studio-only schemes will eventually hit a plateau as student demand will change. Students are looking for an environment that has a sense of community, so it is integral that the design of future buildings accommodate this – allowing students to engage within their community.