Gone are the days when student digs were back to basics bedsits designed to cater for lifestyle over studies. Today’s students have a different set of priorities.
Great Wi-Fi and plenty of power sockets now top students’ most-wanted lists when it comes to their accommodation. “Student ‘digs’ are fast becoming more like high-tech offices or a modern boutique hotel,” says Tim Harris, Director and Project Manager in JLL’s UK Project and Development Services team.
“In fact, students’ demand for Wi-Fi goes way beyond anything you’d get in an office and the bandwidth is often better than an employer’s hardwired services.”
Comparisons between university life and the working world don’t end there. Harris adds: “Just as workers like to work outside the office as well as in it, students like to study outside the library as well as in it. So we’re seeing communal spaces, which in the old days would have had TVs and table football machines, being turned into work rooms, not unlike co-working spaces. It’s what students want from their accommodation.”
There are even suggestions that student accommodation should go one step further and provide start-up space for recent graduates. “There are lots of young people coming out of university with cool ideas who need somewhere to develop their business – a sort of enclosed incubation hub,” says Harris.
“Student accommodation would really suit them because they can’t afford to rent an office on the open market yet. Meanwhile they’re still young, want to be looked after and to continue enjoying the university experience. It could be a soft release to the outside world. I think this may be where developers of student accommodation go next.”
Beyond connectivity and co-working, students’ accommodation wishes are influenced by their culture, their individual attitudes to study, their wealth and age. This means there are no set rules.
Some wouldn’t enjoy the solitude of a new-build serviced apartment far from campus and would prefer traditional-style student accommodation near lectures. But with a growing number of Asian students studying outside their home countries, universities must think specifically about this demographic’s needs.
Harris says: “For instance, did you know that rice cookers can use up more power than fridges, and that each Asian student will probably have one and switch it on each day at about the same time? Universities have to understand all their customers and provide for them. This may mean retrofitting or it may mean a new build.”
And there is plenty of opportunity for both with much of the UK’s student housing stock lagging behind the times and in need of modernization.
Competing with the hospitality sector
A fresh look is now key when it comes to monetizing student digs year-round with non-student income as important as students’. If university accommodation resembles hotel rooms or serviced apartments, it will appeal to some students. But it will also compete with the hospitality sector for guests outside of term time.
“UK universities are now in such competition for customers – both students and otherwise – that some are even installing IPTV in bedrooms so that in term-time students can see re-runs of lectures, while summer ‘hotel’ guests can get commercial content,” explains Harris.
“It could be that lots of universities end up following the American model of providing easily rentable boutique space, because at the end of the day, universities want a rental income over a long period of time – especially if they are repaying the developer or funder who refurbished their buildings”.