By Darren Gardner, COO, Nido Student
While approximately 96% of professionals have suggested they want to continue some form of remote working, the same sentiment is not shared by fed-up, locked-down students who were anticipating the ‘buzz of university’ and a return to in-person interaction and collaboration.
For white-collar professionals who have settled into working from home for close to 18 months, it is easy to understand why many people won’t be jumping at the chance to rise early and endure the stressful humdrum of commuting into city centres on overpriced, over-packed commuter trains.
But, while a high proportion of workers seem adamant to introduce permanent change to their post-pandemic working patterns, students, conversely, are desperate to return to campus. Applications and acceptances for university places are up year-on-year from both domestic and international students, with UCAS witnessing a record number of applicants to higher education courses for October 2021.
Nido Student’s own research revealed that 85% of students were still planning to move away from their family home for their studies or were considering doing so, even if their university of choice was not offering full-time face-to face learning.
Evidently, students still view moving away from the family home as an important first step of their independence. Studying at university is arguably as much about the student experience itself, as it is about achieving a higher education. Most students will forge lasting friendships, build valuable networks and create memories that will last a lifetime — that is unachievable if stuck at home with mum and dad.
After more than a year of virtual lectures, studying and in some cases graduating remotely, a return to the family home is likely to have increased the desire for independence and experiences of new social and learning environments, as seen at university.
Of course, the pandemic has not left the purpose-built student accommodation sector (PBSA) unscathed by any means. In response, the sector has pivoted to embrace the adaptations necessary to provide students with as much of the ‘traditional’ sought after university experience as possible, and as safely as possible. And now with the UK’s vaccine rollout well underway and a return to normality seemingly firmly on the horizon, an optimistic sentiment is starting to be felt across the sector.
Moreover, some 65% of respondents to the GRI Club investment sentiment survey, which includes key global investment principals, disclosed they plan to continue investing in PBSA. Furthermore, according to Savills, investors spent £5.77bn in the sector last year, a 5.7% increase from 2019. These statistics, along with a predicted surge in the number of new students returning to studies, places PBSA in a very favourable position.
If anything, the pandemic will likely amplify the demand for high-quality and safe purpose-built housing for students. Nido has long prioritised students’ mental and physical health, including expansion of our events programme to become fully-digital in response to the pandemic, whilst continuing to connect the Nido Student community digitally. The easing of Covid-19 restrictions in the UK is likely to see a much sought after return to in-person events, allowing students the opportunity to bond both physically and digitally – a key desirable when choosing higher education.
The pandemic has also demonstrated the vital role of the operator in supporting students throughout any unprecedented crisis, representing the positions of both the student and landlord (or investor).
As both students and their parents give much more thought to choosing university accommodation over the coming years, attributes such as secure and fast connectivity, wellbeing, safety and cleanliness will likely become the highest priorities. While there is no absolute guarantee against future unforeseen crises or global pandemics, the PBSA sector offers students the prospect of a home away from home when the going gets tough – a space where they can continue to make friends, network, study, and thrive while retaining their independence and setting out in adulthood.