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Education briefing - Student Accommodation: Room for a New Hotel - Style Offering and Demise of the Boarding School Model?

  • United Kingdom
  • Education - Briefings

26-04-2021

Covid-19 has seen a shift in students’ expectations about their learning experience.

Rent strikes and other recent examples of student activism have also highlighted growing disillusionment with some universities’ accommodation provision.

Post-pandemic, universities will need to evolve to meet head on these shifting expectations and maintain student trust and confidence.

With increased demand for student accommodation forecast, there are tangible gains to be won for agile and innovative accommodation providers, including enhancement of the student experience, strengthening of university reputation and brand, protection of institutional income and securing a competitive edge.

  • Demise of the boarding school model and move to a portfolio approach

Blended learning in some shape or form seems here to stay and consequently students don’t necessarily need or want to be on campus or in private accommodation for long periods of time as has traditionally been the case. Whilst there will undoubtedly be some students (for example care leavers or international students) who may wish to stay in residence on a full-time basis, progressive providers may wish to consider a move away from the “boarding school” model of student accommodation to a more diverse range of options, including nimble and contemporary hotel or airbnb -style provision which offers options such as weekday or part-week -only occupation alongside occupancy alternatives tied to more traditional term dates.

A portfolio approach would offer flexibility for students and providers alike.

  • Reengineering for a diverse student community

As the sector emerges out of covid-lockdown and moves back onto campus, the time is ripe for universities to reflect on the long-established, and arguably old-fashioned, boarding school model for student accommodation provision.  Indeed a move away from a more conventional residential offering may not be so radical as it appears at first glance.

The sector has an opportunity to re-engineer its student accommodation provision to reflect the real needs and demands of an increasingly diverse student population including international students, students with disabilities and mental health problems and care leavers and to provide students with a package of high quality, value for money and safe accommodation options.

  • Some technical questions

 A few of the technical questions which arise include:

  • whether more flexible accommodation contracts would amount to commercial services contracts, rather than traditional tenancies and licences, and so escape some of the more clunky aspects of traditional property law 
  • how providers would deal with room booking and allocation processes, and facilities management, especially where there is frequent turnaround of residents
  • how providers would manage the financial risks of empty rooms with the level of void rooms fluctuating throughout the year, and whether rooms could be made available to the public for conferences or short stays
  • what effects there could be on student rent levels and on students’ perceptions of value for money for their accommodation

           and

  • where would a provider’s duty of care for more “hotel” style residential provision start and end.