The Property Marketing Strategists (TPMS), as part of its Youth Forum in partnership with Dig-In, PBSA News and sponsors The Crowd Agency, have initiated qualitative and qualitative research of university students and their views on community within student accommodation.
Despite 75% of respondents living with others, 97% of respondents state they have experienced feelings of loneliness whilst at university. Considering the student accommodation industry is made up of university accommodation where students generally live with others, this is a stark reality- check that the sector is missing the mark when it comes to fostering meaningful communities.
“The fact that so many students feel lonely despite living with other students – often hundreds of them – speaks volumes about how the focus on social spaces and events within purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) aren’t necessarily doing what the operators intended. In our focus groups we heard a theme about choice which seems like an opportunity for universities and PBSA operators to use technology to improve the allocations model to give students more choice of who they live with and therefore a better chance at feeling like they belong.”Deenie Lee, Co-Founder, TPMS
66% of respondents state they considered what the community would be like when choosing where to live.
However, when ranking who makes up their community, university accommodation friends were ranked lower than family, sports team members, old school friends and work colleagues.
The focus group participants and survey respondents shared insight as to how this could be improved, with 49% citing catered halls as an option to improve community, 62% suggesting sports teams within accommodation settings as a good idea, and 34% preferring to live with others on their course.
Only 13% would consider sharing a room to negate feelings of loneliness, according to the Youth Forum.
“I’m in a shared room right now and I’ve picked it because of cost reasons. I’m an international student. I would rather be on campus and have a shared room. I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of my privacy, to be able to participate in university life.”Noshi, a second-year student
The responses around organised events suggest that students do not see this as their preferred way to nurture community, with only 39% stating they would like social events organised for them in their accommodation.
Supporting this view are the 49% who prefer to socialise in their own flat or house vs 39% who prefer to use communal facilities in their accommodation or on campus.
“Being in accommodation with people or being on the same course even if you are interacting with them, doesn’t guarantee that it is a community.”Gaz, a student in the focus group
With 42% of respondents considering themselves to be neurodiverse, this indicates more awareness and training should be explored to ensure the needs of students are fully understood.
“[Community means] sharing the same beliefs, our same values and also feeling a sense of support and belonging, which is very hard to achieve in high density buildings where students have a lack of control over who they live with.”Maria, a first-year student
Students are a diverse group and have differing needs and wants, therefore when it comes to creating community within student accommodation, there is not one size fits all approach.
However, providing a greater sense of control and choice for students would meet more needs than it currently does.
“Previous research we have done highlights the desire of students to be in smaller flats and with this new Youth Forum evidence pointing towards a lack of inclination to take part in mass events, perhaps the focus should be on curating smaller groups. It is clear just because students are living in the same building, it doesn’t make a community.”Sarah Canning, Co-Founder, TPMS
Key findings of the study:
- 52% of respondents consider feeling a part of a community as quite important, while 39% find it very important.
- 40% of students frequently feel feelings of loneliness, 38% occasionally, 13% always, 5% once and 3% never.
- 66% considered what the community might be like in their accommodation before booking.
- 49% think living in catered halls would provide a greater sense of community.
- 62% believe taking part in sports events within accommodation settings would create a greater sense of community.
- 49% have no preference about who they live with, 34% want to live with students on the same course, and 17% would not want to live with students on their course.