Covering new developments, shifting student demands, community projects, capacity issues, agent usage and growth prospects, Matthew Knott looks at the latest in the international student accommodation sector.
Whether through mental health initiatives and community projects, creating more seamless booking platforms, providing enhanced facilities, or addressing shortfalls of capacity in hotspot locations and sectors, international student accommodation providers are manoeuvring to meet the changing requirements of international students and agents.

A drive for more enhanced facilities is one such current trend. Michele Da Silva of Britannia Student Services , which offers a range of accommodation options in London and Brighton with a 95 per cent international clientele, relates, “Students are becoming ever-more discerning and discriminating with regards to the facilities and services they expect from halls of residences. There has been an increase in requests for private bathrooms, communal/social areas, gym facilities and community activities. Central locations remain in high demand.”

At Londonist DMC , which offers short- and long-term stays in the UK capital with around 85 per cent of resident students from overseas, Anna Bonisoli Alquiti concurs. “We have found many students are looking for the full package in their accommodation, which includes gyms, cinema rooms and ease of access to underground stations, which Londonist can provide.”

Uniplaces www.uniplaces.com is a booking platform offering a range of accommodation options from one month or longer in six European countries. International students account for around 80 per cent of bookings and have increased substantially. Inês Amaral explains the sector is shifting to meet demand. “Students are increasingly looking to complement their studies and the experience of study abroad is valued at many levels, and therefore it is necessary that student housing options continue to increase. We have seen that landlords are concerned with remodelling dwellings in order to make them suitable for student accommodation, and there is a significant increase in investment for the creation of student residences.”

This a theme picked up by Marco Lotichius at Staytoo Apartments , which operates five purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) properties across Germany under a residential scheme, with around a 30 per cent international profile. “The type of product we offer is still pretty new to the majority of German students. We see more differentiation between each location,” he says. “Based on market research, it proved to be essential to align local amenities and services to the micro location/neighbourhood.” He gives an example of a Staytoo Berlin project called Am Lokdepot, where commercial space at the property is used to provide amenities lacking in the area and a place where the local community and Staytoo residents can engage. “This gives the students, and anyone else visiting, the opportunity to be influenced by a productive working environment and gain insight into modern work life.”

 Although the Staytoo properties are long-stay, Marco notes that this doesn’t suit all incoming students and that they are working on schemes that operate under a commercial license of shorter stays, with a planned launch in 2020.

Communities & mental health

Indeed, the shift towards a greater sense of community was a common theme among contributors to this article. At Student.com www.student.com, a student accommodation booking platform with a portfolio of 1.25 million beds in 400 cities, Dan Baker comments, “Students today place a high priority on wellbeing and ensuring their accommodation meets that need. Student.com is seeing an increase in requests for features such as tailored communal areas to aid study, access to fitness facilities and an opportunity for students to feel part of a community.”

Masayo Namiki at Sakura House www.sakura-house.com – which offers a range of options in Tokyo and Kyoto with all residents from overseas – says, “Many students are travelling overseas for the first time and they have a tendency to choose self-contained apartment-type accommodation. However, soon after their arrival, we see their strong demand in making new friends. We suggest them to select shared-type accommodation for the first few months to avoid being lonely.” She continues, “Sociable community contents should be looked at and focused on more seriously.”

UK-based Urban Student Life www.urbanstudentlife.com is part of the Valeo Groupe https://valeogroupe.com and also operates the LIVStudent brand in Ireland and the UK. Will Brookes  advises, “Valeo Groupe Europe acknowledges the developing needs of the modern student. We strive to be more than just a residence for our tenants; we are community driven and provide a real, memorable experience.” He says that residences are designed with communal amenities and activities, including rooftop terraces, BBQs, games rooms, gyms and Pilates studios.

At Campus Living Villages (CLV) www.campuslivingvillages.com, which operates flexible options in the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand, Rebecca O’Hare comments, “Our vibrant resident life programme ‘village life’ provides free opportunities for our residents to feel part of a welcoming and sociable community, ensuring they settle in with ease.”

Linked to this community drive is a focus on mental health and student wellbeing. CLV won the inaugural Class of 2020 Outstanding Mental Wellbeing Award last year, and Rebecca explains, “In recent years, the prevalence of mental health issues amongst students has not gone unnoticed. Our teams are documenting an increase in students presenting with poor mental wellbeing and complex issues. As a result, we have rolled out Mental Health First Aid and awareness training in our villages to ensure our teams can signpost to the best and most appropriate service they may require.”

Similarly, Will advises that USL/Valeo is working with Student Minds www.studentminds.org.uk “to focus on our tenants’ wellbeing and mental health. We understand that one in four students in the UK are currently dealing with mental health issues, and we want to listen and help as much as possible to build a happy community.”

Increasing capacity

With rising student mobility to a number of destinations and ambitious growth targets in operation, capacity is a key issue in the student accommodation sector. According to analysis by Bonard (fomerly StudentMarketing) provision of PBSA as a ratio of university students is as low as four per cent in some European cities, compared with typical rates of 20 per cent or more in major UK cities.

Such factors led Valeo into Dublin to bolster undersupply there and preface entry into continental Europe, says Will. “We recognise a lack of quality student accommodation in Spain and Portugal currently, so with investment from our partners Bank Inter, we will build eight new LIVStudent properties in Spain and three in Portugal within the next 18 months,” he explains, adding each will offer between 500 and 700 beds.

Inês at Uniplaces advises there are mature markets such as the UK and emerging markets including Spain, Italy and Portugal. “Rapid growth may become an issue if you don’t have the right supply for the customer, as more and more investors are entering these emerging markets… Through our experience and data, we’re able to advise and support future investors on what is the right product for the right market, so that supply matches demand.”

While focus may fall on capitals and major study cities, Marco relates that the German market is very fragmented with 60 university cities hosting more than 10,000 students. “Especially international investors tend to focus on the metropolitan areas in Germany, but there are many opportunities in smaller cities as well.”

The accommodation of summer groups is a concern for CLV, where Marc Hannon  advises that junior bed nights in the UK have increased over the last two years. “Being a student accommodation provider with a core provision of fixed-date tenancies that end (typically) in July each year, we are looking at innovative ways to be able to accommodate summer groups who increasingly wish to arrive from mid-to-late June onwards.” Michele at Britannia makes similar observations, noting a lack of halls of residences that accept shorter-stay bookings throughout the academic year. “This is why we purchase allocations of rooms so we can offer flexible lengths of stay all year round.”

Growth markets

At ESL Townhouse  in Boston, USA, where 90 per cent of students are international, Christopher Malenfant advises that the language school market is in a downward cycle, but he says that higher education has not been hit as hard. “I believe that within the next couple of years, demand for both markets will strengthen again.”

He cites China as the key growth market, particular for pathway students, and perhaps unsurprisingly as the largest sender of mobile higher education students, this was echoed by several contributors to this article, including Londonist and CLV. Marco at Staytoo says China accounts for 13 per cent of international student residents, followed by India, and Will at Valeo cites China and the Middle East as growing markets to a number of UK locations.

“Outside of Europe, Brazil and the USA stand out as two markets with the most interesting growth in terms of bookings in our platform,” says Inês at Uniplaces. South America is signalled as a “remarkably growing” region for Sakura House in Japan alongside South East Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe. Michele at Britannia, meanwhile, advises, “Future growth is likely to come from China, India, the Middle East and South American countries such as Brazil and Argentina,” adding that numbers from Europe are either holding steady or slowly decreasing.

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