The market for student accommodation in the UK is increasingly buoyant, with universities now competing openly for students and funds. In 2017, £5.3bn was expected to be invested in purpose-built student accommodation, compared to £4.5bn in 2016, and a record £6bn in 2015.
Traditionally, students mostly relied on the private sector for accommodation. However, the supply from small-scale private landlords has been proportionally lower over the last decade-or-so due to greater the greater number of university places, increased regulation, rising house prices, and so on.
Specialist developer-operators have emerged to provide large-scale developments, either marketed to students directly or on behalf of universities. This has led to a steady increase in expected standards, with universities that lack quality accommodation risking deterring potential students from applying to study there.
Some of the stakeholder considerations for student accommodation include:
- Universities require good-quality, well-located residences that will attract potential students, and be cost-effective to operate and maintain.
- Students require accommodation that will facilitate their transition to independent living and provide opportunities to socialise and study successfully.
- Parents require assurances that accommodation is safe, well-catered, and good value for money.
- Investors require accommodation that provides a reliable, long-term income stream, with short lettings that can easily be adjusted.
- Local communities require student accommodation that is well-managed and carefully located, as the typically transient, and sometimes disruptive, occupants can have a negative impact on existing communities.
In terms of design, student accommodation tends to be provided in a quite simple building type, with few complex building services and little provision for long-term flexibility. While an abundance of highly-functional but dull and repetitive accommodation blocks have been built in recent years, some projects have proved that quality is possible, even within tight budgets and deadlines.
Economies of scale can be achieved in larger developments through the use of repetitive room types. Modern methods of construction, such as modular construction and prefabrication can be used to deliver good quality at high volumes. A typical en-suite student bedroom is around 12-13 sq. m.
As there will is less opportunity to reduce costs on bedroom space allowances, other areas that can be considered for efficiencies include:
- Extent of circulation space: Although less social space may prove less attractive to students.
- Arrangement of circulation space: Selection of an access and circulation strategy based on multiple cores, cores and corridors, and so on.
- Communal facilities: Such as the number of bedrooms per kitchen, common rooms, bars, laundries, gyms, and so on.
- Substructure and roofing: Can have a disproportionate impact on costs if non-standard solutions are specified.
Other design considerations include:
- Ability to personalise space.
- Adequate storage facilities.
- Durability, particularly of finishes, fixtures, and furniture.
- Provision of services during periods of demand, such as hot water during mornings, internet connection during evenings.
- Options for individual control of room temperature.
- Ease of maintenance while achieving minimal disruption to students.
- Appropriate security measures.
- Reducing carbon emissions, managing water and specifying materials with a low environmental impact.
Some university clients commission one-off schemes following traditional sequential procurement routes. The majority, however, tend to adopt a form of partnership approach to their accommodation delivery, through a lease agreement with a developer, or through nomination or reservation agreements with an independent service provider.
Since schemes often need to be completed before the academic year begins, developers can be dependent on careful supply chain management, such as year-round production of prefabricated bedroom modules to be able to supply sufficient units in advance of the critical on-site phase.
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