21st century student accommodation

John Carlin, Managing Director of Wates Construction Midlands, considers the changing landscape of student accommodation and the role of main contractor, as the HE sector continues to take the UK economy by storm...

21st century students have far higher expectations than in previous decades. Cramped and dingy house shares are a thing of the past, with students preferring their own space as well as access to high-end features.

University establishments across the UK are transforming their estates as the market for attracting students becomes increasingly competitive. Students want to see world-class facilities for their investment and it naturally follows that they want their living options to be of equal calibre.

Spending extra on premium accommodation is no longer viewed as an unnecessary indulgence but a prudent decision. University is a significant financial outlay and students are taking their studies more seriously than ever before. University is no longer the after party of school and sixth form and the last hurrah before real life begins – it is a weighty investment in a person’s future. Having a quiet, comfortable and well-equipped place to study is essential and most students see it as an academic advantage. The rise in international and postgraduate students has further contributed to this demand. Student living has become about space and privacy with the option to socialise – not the prerequisite interaction prompted by a flat or house share.

Spending extra on premium accommodation is no longer viewed as an unnecessary indulgence but a prudent decision.

Developments today must therefore cater for these changing needs while also considering new and emerging student inclinations. Projects that we at Wates have worked on have boasted on-site gyms, landscaped gardens, 24-hr concierges and even private cinemas.

First-rate facilities and support

As a contractor with a long and fruitful presence within the HE sector, the opportunity presented by student accommodation is extremely exciting. But it is also demanding – quality and finish is critical, requiring first-rate services, facilities and support, with material durability a must and fast broadband and IT points within main reception rooms a necessity.

To achieve all of this, certainty in delivery must be at the top of the list for developers procuring main contracting services. Efficient procurement routes and a first-class supply chain will help ensure on-time and on-budget completion.

The UK higher education sector is one of the most thriving and growing parts of the UK economy and the buoyancy provided by the student accommodation market is helping to provide stability within an uncertain economic climate. In a social context, student accommodation developments can contribute to the creation of new, socially sustainable communities and help regenerate previously unused or neglected areas. The local economic impact of this cannot be underestimated.

For the developers of student accommodation and HE contractors such as ourselves, not to mention the two million plus students currently enjoying all that the UK Higher Education landscape has to offer, the future is bright.

Latest developments

Our construction of Select Property’s new student village in York (above) was the company’s largest student development to-date. Located within the grounds of the former Grade II listed St Joseph Convent, the accommodation comprises 659 bedrooms across 15 new and three listed buildings.

Delivery of the project coincided with our construction of Strawberry Place, a 331-bed 10-storey student residential development in Newcastle city centre. Comprised of high quality studios and apartments, the development also features a ground floor hub boasting an events space, dining area, lounge, games area and gym.