Purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) – an important part of the picture
20 Jun 23
The knock-on benefits of PBSA include freeing up traditional housing for families, regenerating brownfield sites, and allowing Local Authorities to influence where students should live, helping to prevent clustering in particular neighbourhoods and tackle the ‘town vs gown’ issues that can arise.
Reflecting on my time as a student in Sheffield in the noughties, my accommodation could be considered ‘basic’ at best; the cheapest halls on offer in the first year followed by a fairly grimy HMO for the second and third year. I even remember one landlord trying to convince us that the pile of rubble hidden beneath a rug in the garden could be considered a positive USP. As I tended to be at university by day and the pub by night, I should add that my student experience was in no way tarnished by poor-quality housing.
However, with the significant hike in university fees, coupled with the hybrid working model that has become normalised since the Covid-19 pandemic, students are now spending more time indoors and expecting more from their lodgings. High-quality purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) is helping to meet this need remarkably well in our major cities, with the likes of Vita and True Student offering state-of-the-art facilities such as cinema rooms, study spaces, private dining areas and fitness classes alongside an events calendar and all-inclusive bills. The idea of creating a true community, as opposed to a place to sleep, is key to their success, with a more positive living experience reflected in a much higher retention rate than student HMOs.
The knock-on benefits of PBSA include freeing up traditional housing for families, regenerating brownfield sites, and allowing Local Authorities to influence where students should live, helping to prevent clustering in particular neighbourhoods and tackle the ‘town vs gown’ issues that can arise. Well designed and managed spaces can also promote better mental health and wellbeing and ensure that students have somewhere to turn to for support.
While key challenges remain over viability and affordability in particular – with more Local Authorities following the London Plan in adopting an affordable housing policy for PBSA – the sector has demonstrated resilience despite fears that Brexit and the pandemic would negatively impact the pipeline.
Around a quarter of UK university students now reside in PBSA, but with demand far outstripping supply and many applicants choosing where to study based on the quality of accommodation over the courses on offer, we need to work together to keep driving forward this innovation if the UK is to continue to compete internationally.