TAccommodation provision is a key consideration for any student thinking of studying abroad, with many unwilling to compromise on standards. In fact, some would go so far as to argue that today, students place greater emphasis on this aspect of their study abroad vacation than on actual academic provision. Indeed, if standards fall short of student and/or parent expectations, it has the potential to taint the overall study experience, something international education providers and the private accommodation organisations that they work with are keen to avoid at all costs.
Renovate to accumulate
Advances currently being made in this area of service provision are impressive with a number of operators investing a great deal of time, money and effort to refurbish, renovate and modernise existing residences.
London Nest, a UK-based provider, specialising in house share accommodation and student residences, has undertaken four separate renovation projects in key London locations including Finsbury Park, Kentish Town and Walthamstow. James Herbertson, Director of London Nest, notes, “All of these were renovated and developed according to the needs of our school partners and more importantly their students.” London Nest has also been busy handling promotion for The Stay Club a new accommodation outfit combining student residences with a hostel/hotel atmosphere and in August supported the launch of a trendy purpose built block of 127 studios in Willesden Junction. A similar development comprising 192 units is earmarked for a January 2013 unveiling in Camden, North London.
Development is not just limited to the UK. In the USA, Educational Housing Services, a company set up in 1987 to address shortages in student accommodation in New York, started renovation works on its ‘New Yorker’ residence this year. Continuously investing in renovation and design, the company’s Jill Strominger affirms that the project, spearheaded by an award winning architect firm, is expected for completion in spring 2013, and will include a communal kitchen and study lounge for student residents.
“Every year we renovate a new space,” notes Karen Di Cato at FIAP Jean Monnet, an international accommodation residence in the centre of Paris. “In 2007 we started a massive renovation in our structure…renovating the main lobby, bar area, caféteria, restaurant, the amphitheater, most of the meeting rooms and are now starting to renovate the bedrooms.” Catering for 500 students she observes that the domestic to international student ratio stands at 34 to 66 per cent.
Campus Living Villages (CLV), which manages over 35,000 beds across Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the USA, has been busy redefining university accommodation and has recently developed on campus living environments for students at the University of Salford in the UK and Edith Cowan University and the University of New South Wales in Australia. “We believe in continuous improvement across our existing villages and regularly reinvest in our facilities in consultation with our partner institutions,” explains Fairina Cheng. “Refurbishments have included the addition of energy efficient fittings, improvements to apartments and new communal spaces to encourage resident interaction,” she adds.
Others have embarked upon ambitious new build projects. Britannia Student Services is currently overseeing the development of a new state-of-the-art halls of residence in Brighton, UK. This newest offering will feature 134 ultra-modern, en suite bedrooms and compliments the company’s large accommodation portfolio. “We can currently accommodate approximately 3,000 students in homestay, 800 students in halls of residence and 100 students in apartment/house shares at any one time,” attests Michele da Silva, adding that all but two per cent of clientele are international in origin.
The addition of English-taught programmes to university curricular in the Netherlands has seen international numbers rocket by 51 per cent over a five-year period, according to a student housing report by real estate service provider, Savills. To counter the prospect of demand outstripping supply, the Dutch government implemented an ambitious plan last year to speed up the number of new student housing developments in the pipeline. Following the successful implementation of a pilot project in Liege, Belgium, Benelux-based company City Living and the Carlyle Group, the investor behind student accommodation brand, Pure Student Living, are behind not one but three separate projects in the country. Aptly called The Student Hotel, City Living spokesperson, Frank Uffen, notes that construction has commenced on a 700+ room hotel in Amsterdam, with a 250+ room development in Rotterdam due for completion this autumn. An additional 300+ room student hotel located in The Hague is scheduled to open in 2014. Uffen explains that they hope to bring style, design and aspirational living to both domestic and international students.
“CLV’s vision is to create the place to live, learn and grow,” observes Cheng. “We enhance campus living with structured programmes designed to create memorable experiences, support study success and assist in the transition to independent living.” Indeed, each private accommodation provider has a unique concept that defines its product and helps shape product development. For example, Nido Student Living, which has properties in London’s Notting Hill, King’s Cross and Spitalfields, recognised that students wanted more from their accommodation provision. Kristen Fergus explains, “Students now consider what was previously known as luxury accommodation as an expectation rather than an added incentive. This is a leading factor in the development of Nido Student Living facilities. Students are seeking an all-inclusive housing and social experience, which is exactly what Nido provides them.” Currently, 85 per cent of clients are international, with top representation from the USA, India, Brazil, China, Spain, Russia, Italy, France and Greece.
The Student Hotel’s concept of “style, design and aspirational living” rings true with a library, onsite restaurant, bar, games room and fitness centre all factored into the design blueprint, affirms Uffen. UK-based student rental accommodation provider, Find Digs, meanwhile, prides itself on offering ‘affordable, luxury student living’. Students, 40 per cent of which are from overseas, can choose from options including private halls, flatshares and studios, says Alia Leoussis. Boasting over 600 bed spaces, she adds that additional extras such as airport transfers, organised social activities for residents and international pastoral staff are all included.
Casaswap is a worldwide roommate and housing service and introduces a whole new concept to student accommodation provision with students exchanging, subletting or renting residences to and from one another, explains Co-founder Søren Keller. Differentiating themselves from other providers out there, he adds, “We are different from other competitors since we offer a platform where students search for themselves and choose exactly what they need.” Partnering with numerous universities, Keller notes that they are able to provide for those that others may not be able to.
New trends on the block
According to Bernard Zagdanski from Sara’s Homestay in the USA, luxurious living is trending, especially among summer students. “Long-term students, particularly from Asia, will look for more economical accommodation even if further from the city centre. [But] there is a trend towards more luxurious accommodation on the part of students, particularly summer students, who combine a language course together with a holiday.” Preferring to deal with agent partners directly, Zagdanski notes that they are currently developing their website to enable agents to track their clients’ placement application.
A small proportion of students, however, are prepared to pay a premium for location. Hugh Best at London Central Portfolio (LCP), a city-based property investor specialising in rental accommodation in prime parts of the capital, says the number of international student enquiries received has increased steadily. “In our 2006 audit, students made up just 12 per cent of our rental portfolio. These students generally rented our smaller and less expensive flats sub UK£400 (US$625) per week. Today however, the number of students has almost doubled to 23 per cent.” Best observes that LCP has made no conscious effort to attract foreign student tenants, rather international students have come directly to them. He says, “Our apartments are cherry-picked, interior designed and tailored to executive tenants ‘must-have’ criteria.”
“More and more students are demanding a private bathroom,” observes Herbertson at London Nest. Consequently, en suite bathrooms have been at the very forefront of recent renovations works. “The demand for private bathrooms has meant developing properties with slightly smaller rooms but with space for a shower, sink and WC [toilet].” Given students’ increasing reliance on the Internet for communication as well as study, accommodation that does not facilitate Wi-Fi is a real sticking point for student clients, he adds. “Wi-Fi is now ubiquitous in our daily lives that it’s virtually a necessity to students like running water and bathroom facilities!”
While many universities and language schools partner private accommodation providers, there are a select few that maintain their own provision. Inturjoven Spanish Courses in Spain for example has specialised in residential accommodation since its inception, says Maximo Sepulveda Ramos. With properties in Seville, Córdoba, Chipiona and Jerez, features such as en suite bathrooms are high on the list of student wants. From the very beginning, he adds, they have made it a priority to adapt to meet the needs of students and agent partners.
At ESL Townhouse in the USA, Christopher Malenfant relates that the average length of stay among international clients has shot up, prompting the company which offers private and shared furnished apartments in convenient locations all across Boston to increase capacity by 40 per cent over the last two years. This summer, they took on an extra residence at a local university to help meet demand. As of this autumn, ESL will have the means to cater for 119 residents, with an additional 60-to-80 students catered for during the summer season.
Homestay is no longer the preferred choice among clients at Britannia Student Services. “There has been a definite move towards halls of residence as opposed to homestay, as today’s students tend to want more independence,” notes Da Silva. Acquiring two halls of residence in London, she notes that they also block buy rooms in other private halls to accommodate short stay students. “Britannia is filling a gap in the market by making accommodation in halls of residence available to everyone all year round,” she says.