11 Sep 2014

How student accommodation impacts the international student experience

student-housingHigher education and students are becoming more international, but students and universities struggle to find the right solution for housing. At a breakfast meeting due to take place on 17 September 2014 in Prague, university recruiters and housing specialists intend to explore how new types of accommodation can benefit the international student experience and increase the retention rate of students. 

In a recent EAIE blog post, Gennaro Proscia of HousingAnywhere, described how the rapid changes in higher education have fuelled the demand for student accommodation and how they are creating many initiatives in student housing and generating great interest from the side of investors. Good news for all. These new investments and housing initiatives also open up opportunities for universities to be involved in accommodating their students. For universities the question of student housing often feels out of their control. In many countries in Europe, universities do not own housing, and are obliged to use their limited (often public) funds on education and education facilities – not on housing. Yet, the shortfall in both quantity and quality of student housing across European cities is starting to become an issue in attracting students, putting the matter at the heart of a ‘marketing’ problem of universities.

New investments: from rooftop swimming pool to affordable housing

That is why it is especially good news that investors are finding their way to student digs. In the Netherlands for instance, The Student Hotel is a company that offers accommodation to students for up to a year, but its formula is designed for flexibility: students share their building with corporate trainees and interns who might stay for two months, and with ‘flashpackers’ staying only a few nights. In summer months, many students return home, making room for tourists in the high season. The Student Hotel properties don’t look how you might expect when you think of student housing: they are outfitted with the latest design furniture and include amenities like a gym and a bicycle to get around.

In Spain, Melon District operates a similar formula, attracting a wide variety of students, many from overseas. Students arrive with not much more than a suitcase of clothes for the semester. Its largest property, Melon District Marina, features four rooftop swimming pools that overlook the Mediterranean on one side and the Sagrada Familia on the other. Resa, another Spanish company, follows a different business model: they partner with local universities and make agreements about the development and the rents that they can charge. Universities supply the land through a long-term lease. In return Resa provides housing to their students at an affordable rate.

But not only bricks and mortar developments herald change, online platforms such as Housing Anywhwhere, Nestpick, Unipol and Izyloc are creating transparency and professionalism in the market for student accommodation.

Education and housing: a package deal

For all these new generation investors, developers, and tech startups, partnerships with the education community are incredibly important. For them, universities form the link to their customers (the student). For developers it reduces the occupancy risk, yet at the same time for universities it means they are able to offer their international students a soft landing after an international move: the international student’s place of residence is secured so they can focus on their academic success.

With the student housing market becoming more competitive, old student housing business models are being challenged. This is good news for universities, because they are becoming important players in connecting these new housing providers with their customer. If a university can organise this process, the accommodation sector is very willing to work with them.

Housing contributes to student success

University involvement in accommodation is not just useful for attracting students; it also influences student success, student retention rates, and student satisfaction with their international experience. Studies in the USA have shown that there is a direct link between academic success and living arrangements. The way students live has become a field of study in its own right.

Breakfast meeting: what housing means for international students

To explore the question what student housing means for international students; how universities can use accommodation in their value proposition to their students; and ways to organise partnerships between universities and housing providers, The Class of 2020 is organising a breakfast meeting in Prague on 17 September. For more details and registration, see the website.

By Wouter Onclin, Research & Program Manager at The Class of 2020