Back in 2013, when I first attended The Class of 2020 annual conference, we were all eager to shape the next European renaissance in terms of how students would live during their studies. At that time, the private PBSA product was just beginning to take root in continental Europe while even globally, student housing as an asset class was still considered niche.

The conference was full of early adopters, mostly from the UK and the Netherlands, with enthusiastic investors from across the globe intending to engage with this soon-to-be-booming sector.

Since then, the development of the student housing sector in Europe has accelerated, both in volume and geographical coverage. With another million beds projected to be delivered in the next decade, there’s no evidence that this upward trend will halt anytime soon. Even more so when we look as far back as 70 years ago. Hard evidence tells us that international student mobility has been growing constantly, especially during and after economic downturns. It is, therefore, very likely that the current pandemic, once over, will ultimately trigger increased mobility.

We at BONARD will always be proud of our contribution to this success story. This is how we have witnessed the rise of the asset class through our own eyes.

When it comes to data provision, the industry has followed a similar path to traditional asset classes. Investors have principally sought market and investment data, such as supply and demand, with the focus being locked in on major university cities.

After the most obvious opportunities in the market were taken, the need shifted to holistic market mapping. Hence, we started to work at a more granular level and covered new areas, such as amenities and services offered. Marketing data and the ability to understand what students wanted and where they wanted to study helped stakeholders further optimise their product. More recently, in an era of building and growing portfolios, the market has found itself in greater need of financial data. Collecting such data has elevated transparency in the market and enabled investors to expand much more strategically than previously.

As we celebrate The Class of 2020’s ‘graduation’ year, it is obvious that the growth of the private PBSA asset class is unprecedented. It is far more documented, better understood and more liquid; it has already proved to be crisis-resilient and has been repeatedly voted one of the top investment prospects worldwide. Simply put, it is no longer a niche, but an established asset class.

Student housing in Europe is now advancing to yet another stage. While institutional investors and stock exchange engagement provide new alternative streams of capital, product and location are pivotal to the expansion plans of investors keen to understand the nuances of the market.

Further growth in this asset class seems inevitable, as its strong fundamentals have never changed. The sector is growing and voicing new demands. As an industry, we must continue to solve to be ready to meet the challenges of these exciting times. That can start from identifying increasing needs to understand the accelerated changes of the intertwined industries and the environment we operate in. By close collaboration amongst the industry players in order to provide timely evidence and advice will continue to be our key role. Co-research project conducted with The Class of 2020 is a prime example responding to such needs. Main findings and full report will be available shortly.

 

The article was originally published on digital trend report (December 2020) at the following link.

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