Take the longer view – can your student accommodation deliver the goods?

By 2025, the number of 18 year olds across the UK will be back up to the dizzying heights of nine years ago – by 2030, we’ll see numbers rocket even higher. Forecasting what this means for applicant numbers for your provider will already be a key part of business strategy – defining course portfolios and growth strategies – and we see many clients come to us for our analytical expertise on just that. But could you be facing an entirely different challenge?

In the past ten years, things have changed in higher education. Commentators might judge the commercialisation of HE, saying that it undermines the educational and academic value of degree-level studies, but with students seeing their choice as more than just an academic decision, and with HE now offering a far more comprehensive service wrapper than ever before, it can’t be ignored.

Providers failing to recognise the importance of their overall offering, and who take their foot off the pedal when their applications increase, do so at significant risk.

Students now view their university experience holistically, with accommodation at the heart of that. For some, it’s as crucial as the portfolio you offer. Students have told us that accommodation quality and availability are massively important in their choice of where to study – both came in the top ten factors when making their decision.

Even once students have begun their studies, if they’re unhappy with their accommodation, they’re ten times more likely to feel negative about their whole university experience.*

In a joint piece of research between UCAS and Knight Frank, 99% of students said that the standard of their accommodation had an influence on their wellbeing, with 79% saying it was an ‘important’ or ‘very important’ factor.

Given that accommodation is vital to students’ decision-making, does your long-term strategy ensure that it’s a central part of your thinking?

The good news is that the sector is starting from a healthy place. Our research showed that 76% of the nearly 70,000 students we asked were happy with their accommodation choice. But to make sure that stays the case, you’ll need to take a step back and understand who your market will be going forward.

Establishing where they come from and what their needs might be, means you can start planning for your future intakes. And remember, that’s the whole accommodation proposition – not just the supply on campus. Think about those that are purpose built student accommodation (PBSA) providers. They all help to sell the reasons why someone should come to you.

Analysis should look at where your students come from, how this has changed over time, how many of them want to live at home, and how this might change in the future. We know the growth in 18 year olds is not going to be uniform across the country, so make sure that is reflected in your analysis.

Our consultancy service provides just this support. So, while the numbers on CRM systems across the country may start to look far healthier, don’t overlook your accommodation provision – it could make all the difference in whether an applicant chooses you, or your competitor.

Sarah Barr Miller

Head of Insights

*Red Brick, National Student Housing Survey 2019