The crisis point in student housing in Europe: a wake-up call

The Class Foundation highlights the crisis point in student housing in Europe, and what needs to be done to address the issue. 

Barcelona, Spain, where The Class Foundation will hold its annual conference this year | PBSA News
Barcelona, Spain, where The Class Foundation will hold its annual conference this year.

The pursuit of higher education is often considered one of the most significant steps a person can take to secure a prosperous future. Universities have always been at the heart of this journey, offering students the knowledge and skills necessary to excel in their chosen careers. However, in recent times, an unexpected hurdle has emerged that threatens the very fabric of the educational system: the student housing crisis. 

By Arunima Dey, Research and Events Manager, The Class Foundation

It was always assumed that if a student secured a place at a university, the subsequent steps like finding housing would naturally fall into place. But the reality of the situation paints a different, more concerning picture. With cities and campuses swelling with students, many institutions are grappling with an acute shortage of affordable student accommodation. This has reached such a critical juncture that students are now declining offers from their dream universities due to a lack of housing. 

The numbers don’t lie 

Let’s delve into some statistics to shed light on the magnitude of the student housing crisis in Europe: 

  1. Declining enrolment: According to Eurostat, in Europe, there was a decline of 2.3% in university enrolment for the 2022-2023 academic year. While there are various factors at play, the availability and affordability of student housing is a significant contributor to this trend.  
  2. Rising costs: In the European Union, the cost of student housing increased by an average of 38% from 2010 to 2020, making it increasingly unaffordable for many. (Eurostat, 2021). The Class Foundation’s European Student Living Monitor report of 2023 highlights that students who encounter financial difficulties have worse mental health scores.  
  3. The Netherlands: The Netherlands, a country known for its high-quality education, has faced a severe student housing crisis. In Amsterdam, for instance, there is an estimated shortage of over 13,000 student accommodation rooms (Amsterdam City Council, 2022). This shortage has had profound consequences on student enrolment and academic performance. So severe has this crisis become that, beginning in 2023, governments have urged universities to temporarily suspend the recruitment of international students until adequate housing solutions can be implemented. 
  4. Germany: Germany, a popular destination for international students, has not been immune to the student housing crisis. According to data from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), housing shortages have left many students scrambling for accommodation, leading to increased stress and a negative impact on academic performance (DAAD, 2021). As Germany sees a record-high number of international students this year with internationalisation efforts only continuing to ramp up (The PIE News, 2023), it becomes more imperative now than ever for the need for student beds to be heard, as this influx is not currently being met with the same increase in accommodation. 
  5. France: France is also facing its share of student housing challenges. The French Ministry of Higher Education reported a shortage of student housing in major cities like Paris and Lyon, leading to high rental prices and overcrowding (French Ministry of Higher Education, 2022). 
  6. United Kingdom: The United Kingdom is grappling with a similar issue. The Guardian reported in 2022 that a lack of affordable student housing was leading to overcrowding and pushing students into substandard accommodation. Daniel Smith of the Good Management Group notes that in 2023, the UK’s higher education landscape faces challenges, with a significant decline in Chinese student applications (10-20%) and a higher-than-normal cancellation rate. Students are becoming more discerning, seeking options in Australia, Canada, and the US if they don’t secure places in the Russell Group universities. Cities like Coventry, Sheffield, and Colchester have low occupancy rates and decreased applications, with hopes for clearing processes. Bristol, Durham, York, Glasgow and St Andrews are making headlines, but not for the right reasons. They are accommodating students in other cities due to a shortage of available housing.  

Why has this happened? 

Rapid urbanisation, increased university enrolment rates, and limited housing infrastructure are some of the driving factors. In some regions, housing facilities haven’t kept up with the rate of university expansion. Meanwhile, in others, property developers have prioritised luxury student accommodation, which, although high in quality, are unaffordable for the average student. The result is an increasing number of students left without viable housing options, causing stress, anxiety, and, in extreme cases, students dropping out or declining offers altogether.

A wake-up call for stakeholders 

The ramifications of this crisis are far-reaching. Not only does it impact students’ personal lives and educational experiences, but universities are also feeling the squeeze. Institutions face reputational risks as they may be viewed as unable to cater to their students’ basic needs. Furthermore, they might see a decline in enrolment rates, affecting their financial bottom line. 

Thankfully, the gravity of the situation is starting to resonate within the student housing sector. Providers and policymakers are beginning to recognise the urgent need to invest in affordable and adequate student housing solutions. Partnerships between housing providers and universities, innovative housing designs, and regulatory reforms are just some of the strategies being explored. 

The reality check at the Class Conference 2023 

The urgency of addressing this issue is also gaining traction in the broader community. This year, the Class Conference 2023 in Barcelona on 8-9 November, stands as a testament to the collective realisation of the importance of student housing. As the largest student housing conference in Europe, this event promises to be a nexus for stakeholders – from university representatives to housing developers, policymakers and city leadership. Here, the brightest minds will converge to share insights, deliberate solutions, and forge partnerships that will shape the future of student accommodation. 

In conclusion, while the student housing crisis is undeniably a challenge, it is also an opportunity. The situation beckons a collective effort to reimagine how we approach student living, ensuring that every student can pursue their educational dreams without the shadow of housing insecurity looming over them. The Class Conference 2023 is a promising step in that direction, and as the discourse around student housing amplifies, there’s hope that we’ll pave the way for robust solutions that stand the test of time. 

Register now for The Class Conference 2023 and be part of the solution to Europe’s student housing crisis.