The formula for winning student accommodation

What makes up the recipe for accommodation that attracts students? In a saturated renters’ market with a proliferation of options, accommodation providers are increasingly looking towards the added value extras that provide the best quality of life and learning environment for their student tenants. Based on the responses of 70,000 students in 2018, this is what the winning formula looks like...
 
 
UCAS and Knight Frank have released the 2018/19 Student Accommodation Survey, capturing the views of over 70,000 young people, split across current students and new applicants.
 
Last year, there were 2.32 million students living in the UK.
 
That’s a herculean number of personalities and preferences for accommodation providers to consider when designing and building student homes. And, when you add that 20% of those students are international, and 25% are aged 21 or over, the game is about much more than knowing the likes and dislikes of a typical domestic undergraduate.
 
The good news is that, on the whole, students are happy with their digs. 
 
In fact, more than three quarters of those living in purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) told us they like where they live. This increases to 80% in the shared accommodation demographic, where the majority of all students surveyed commented that living with friends or other students influences their happiness. So, there’s the first ingredient.
 
The second, and the one that dominated the responses to our questions, is location. It’s the single most influential factor when it comes to the happiness and satisfaction of students. Location will mean different things to different people, of course. Perhaps it’s the proximity to campus or town centre, perhaps transport links for getting home at Christmas, perhaps a safe neighbourhood. But still, the old adage applies – location, location, location.
 
Next is cost. Almost every single student we asked (97%) told us this was an important factor when deciding where to live. Obvious, maybe, but the interesting point to note is that once a student has chosen their home, rent generally doesn’t influence happiness. Just 39% said that it did. Affordability, therefore, is important, but only as a range, and even then only at the decision-making stage for many.
 
The fourth ingredient is self-sufficiency, or independence. This repeatedly emerged as a powerful factor in what makes a good student home.
 
This became clear when we asked students what makes them happy about their accommodation. Just 30% said the ability to live with family was important, and only 31% cited on-site catering as influencing their happiness. Fewer than half (43%) said the provision of on-site events had an impact on their satisfaction with their accommodation.
 
And, when we asked students what they’d be willing to pay extra for, the same theme occurred – with in-house entertainment the least popular option.
 
Students want the ability to choose how and where to spend their time and money, rather than it being dictated as part of their accommodation package. Independence and the flight from the nest have always been attractors for a life at university, so this may come as no surprise to many.
 
So, what does that make the winning formula? 
 
In a nutshell: shared, affordable accommodation in a great location, which offers independence and flexibility for the student. 
 
And for bonus points, fast internet… 70% of students would pay extra for it.
 
A final point which bears discussion, is the difference between landlords. Some 69% of students living in PBSA would recommend it to first years, compared to 77% of those living in university-run accommodation. This wasn’t a question about satisfaction or happiness, but specifically about a home’s suitability for new students.
 
With student reps and freshers’ angels being the default tour guides on open days, this distinction in accommodation is important when considering how new students are guided to choose between whether it is PBSA or university-run. 
 
The responsibility of the sector in this is to ensure that, at all stages of the decision-making process, students are well armed with the information they need to make the right choice for them. Read the full report here.
 
Rebecca Hopwood is Head of Commercial Sales at UCAS Media.