European accommodation needs debated at Class of 2020

24, November, 2014

Future models of student accommodation provision and the needs of millennial students were among the topics debated at the recent Class of 2020 Conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, the fifth annual event focussed on European student housing.

One of the panel debates at the Class of 2020 Conference

Hosted at the Hotel Casa 400, the one-day conference was the largest to date, drawing delegates from institutions, accommodation providers, property developers and other sectors to discuss a range of issues relating to the provision of student accommodation across Europe.

In an opening address, Frank Uffen, Director of Marketing & Partnership at The Student Hotel and Co-Founder of the conference, said, “We started four years ago with Amsterdam providers to discuss our hopes and goals. Now we are a fully fledged European think tank.”

Referring to the need for greater investment in student housing to accommodate growing numbers of international students, Uffen said, “International mobility is up by 100 per cent in seven years in Europe. Universities and cities need partners.”

In a session entitled ‘The Next European Housing Model’, Maureen McDermott, a student accommodation consultant, presented some innovative accommodation design concepts from projects currently underway across the continent, including environmentally sensitive projects and the trend of redeveloping existing industrial features, such as shipping containers. She also referred to Dutch national plans to create an extra 16,000 beds by 2016, noting that 8,100 have already been completed.

Tim Mitchell of GSA Group, parent company of the Urbanest accommodation brand, spoke of intentions to develop accommodation across Europe, Asia and the Middle East in the coming year, and of the high ratio of international occupancy within their existing UK accommodation. He also commented on the need to fit provision alongside shifting trends such as feeder colleges, private international chains and satellite campuses, and said that large international student populations were key factors in their selection of locations.

Reflecting on changes within the accommodation industry over recent years, Sean O’Shea, CEO of University Partnership Program (UPP), said, “I’ve noticed universities taking a very different approach. There has been significant investment and the creation of student experience programmes.” He continued, “We had to up our game in terms of service and amenities. Students are now regarded as consumers.”

In a breakout session on university partnerships, Stephen Orme, Director of Study Group’s Holland International Study Centre, highlighted agent interest in the quality of student accommodation, and explained, “Agents spend longer at accommodation because it is more important.” He added, “We need the quality accommodation for the business model and recruitment and also for the learning model,” and he commented that 24-hour security was a minimum requirement for agents and parents.

Previously student accommodation providers were suppliers to the study travel industry, they have now matured into partners within the trade, commented Susan Goldstein, Director of Susan Goldstein Associates, in the day’s final plenary session on ‘City strategies for attracting and keeping Millennials’.

“Without adequate accommodation, student recruitment is capped way below the universities’ capacity,” Goldstein added. Meanwhile, Jacqueline van Marle, Senior Advisor of Marketing and Communications at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, explained how the city and its institutions have collaborated to ensure an appropriate infrastructure is in place to realise ambitious international student recruitment plans.

During a panel session themed around the life of the millennial student, debates centred around whether student accommodation should be seen as part of a wider “multi-family asset” investment, whether student accommodation rates should be capped, as they currently are in many European countries, or whether such caps discourage private investors from entering the market and building much-needed accommodation stock.

“What we are here to do is to visualise the chain,” said Uffen, commenting on the value of the conference, “Student accommodation is a mechanism to connect and establish partnerships,” he said. “We try to bring people from different communities together and discuss connections.”

He said the student accommodation sector is becoming more like the hospitality sector, where providers have to satisfy every single day. “Reputation management is vital; we need to be thinking as a service and not just as a bed and four walls.”

Next year’s Class of 2020 event will take place from November 3-4.

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