International student housing: a new online solution?

International student housing: a new online solution?

As students become more and more internationally mobile, universities worldwide are facing increasing pressure on their current resources and capacities, predominantly in the student housing sector. The costs of building new dormitories and the times required are not always affordable, and often students are forced to adapt to temporary and expensive solutions while trying to avoid any attempts of fraud. Is there a solution to this growing issue?

Michael Gerrity, founder and CEO of the digital news network and property information marketplace, explains his thoughts in an article about the global student housing market and the quantity and quality of accommodation offered. The student housing was one of the best performing sectors during the global economic downturn and is becoming a significant asset on the world stage. From a certain point of view, this situation brings into play positive aspects such as the increasing quality of accommodation offered to students due to foreign investors becoming more and more interested in this new business. And let’s not forget the benefits brought by free competition that would allow cheaper rental fees for students with a better service. However, the negative consequence of the economic downturn is the increase in annual fees that students have to pay in order to finance their studies. And this may be the most important issue universities, and society in general, must face, since the number of international students is increasing exponentially year on year.

Increasing student mobility, increasing pressure on student housing

A recent UNESCO study has shown that at least four million students studied abroad in 2012 globally, a number that has doubled during the last decade (in 2002 there were two million international students worldwide). In addition, this number will only continue to grow due to the introduction of the new Erasmus+ programme for exchange students in Europe. Today, Chinese students represent the largest majority, with more than 650 000 international scholars (a number which doubled from 2007 to 2011). India, South Korea and Brazil are all following this trend of increasing student exports. On top of this we have to also consider the large growth expected in countries like the UK, Germany, Australia, the US and Japan.

Given these numbers, and assuming that the exponential growth will continue during the next 10 years, the lack of housing facilities is becoming more of a concern. In particular, the problem is greatest concerning the situation of short-stay accommodation. Private property owners are not willing to rent their houses for short periods (ie three to eight months), preferring to dismiss interested applicants and wait for more lucrative opportunities. One cause of this could be the lack of a trustworthy, dedicated tool for international students, universities and private property owners.

Growth in student housing initiatives

In the last five years, new businesses have emerged to acquire a piece of the big potential profit in the student housing market. Most of the initiatives and projects do not really solve the problem, since they are focused on a local scale, neglecting all the prospects that the process of globalisation has given to the local market. Fraud is the first fear of international students when it comes to the World Wide Web and lack of security and warranties is a big issue. Social networks, such as Facebook, cannot act as a meaningful tool for this purpose, while local platforms cannot fulfil the goal due to language barriers (local languages vs English as a lingua franca).

However, in the last few years a new trend has emerged: that of social housing, whereby an organisation or an institution manages the rental housing of a certain area with the aim of providing affordable and quality housing. Thanks to the actions taken in this direction, housing in the last years has become ‘smarter’, with platforms like providing universities and students with a more efficient way of using their existing accommodation. The concept of these platforms is to encourage international students to rent out their houses to incoming students, so that the latter would avoid any fraud. The overall aim is to provide students with a more trustable and quality service (student-to-student), while making it a worldwide social phenomenon. Tweet this

By Gennaro Proscia, HousingAnywhere, the Netherlands