Class of 2020 debates student accommodation issues

09 November, 2015

Public/private collaboration to meet housing undersupply and the importance of accommodation in destination marketing to international students were among the issues debated at the Class of 2020 conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, last week.

Panel discussions at The Class Conference on European student housing in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, last week.

Now in its fifth year, The Class Conference is dedicated to European student housing and expanded to around 450 delegates and a new venue at the DeLeMar Theatre, welcoming investors, property developers, student accommodation operators and university representatives for fam tours of the accommodation options in the city and a full day of accommodation-themed discussions.

Opening the conference under the theme of Rolling out the Red Carpet, Deputy Major of Amsterdam, Kajsa Ollongren, said Amsterdam was “almost the perfect student city”, and was competing globally to recruit and retain international talent by stimulating the link between students and the labour market. Addressing the accommodation shortages in the city, she said the city had added 8,000 units in the last year and had plans for another 8,000, but conceded that persuading more private operators to invest in housing and making processes shorter was a necessary step to addressing the shortfall of stock.

In a panel debate on The century of the University City, Laura Howard, President of the European Association for International Education (EAIE), said housing was one of the many aspects of international education that needed more investment, and added that student profiles were changing due to issues such as transnational education and technological changes, while demographics beyond the 18-22 full-time student profile were increasing.

Henk Huizing, Head of Infrastructure Investments at asset management company PGGM said that the UK had the perfect accommodation investment model, explaining that investors need a consistent regulatory environment.

Representing the Association of College and University Housing Officers – International (Acuho-i), Tom Ellet, Senior Associate Vice President of Student Affairs at New York University, explained that from a recent survey of 750 members the major issues in student accommodation were: occupancy, pastoral, deferred maintenance, affordability, staffing and assistance with life skills.

An expert panel session on destination marketing examined the role of accommodation in attracting international students. Vincent Verspaandonk, Head of University Value at StudyPortals, said “Universities, cities and regions need to convince students that they have an international environment. Housing becomes a problem in popular cities.”

Nathan Goddard, Chief Relationship Officer at, warned that students will go elsewhere if there is insufficient supply of quality housing. “We see people making a practical decision because they don’t have access to accommodation.” StudentMarketing CEO, Samuel Vetrak, added that having enough accommodation supply needed to be part of a destination marketing strategy and become part of a value proposition to international students.

Summing up the themes of the conference, Brikena Xhomaqi, Head of Institutional Relations at Uniplaces and one of the moderators at the event, said it was vital that public and private stakeholders worked together to address problems in housing, as these couldn’t be solved by actors working individually.

Discussing the substantial growth of The Class Conference in 2015, Frank Uffen, Director of Marketing & Partnership at The Student Hotel and Co-Founder of the conference, told StudyTravel Magazine, “Momentum was building during the year. We noticed the urgency of accommodation and questions from cities on how to attract international talent.” He said a lot of different companies joined the delegation and that universities were now more active in the content of the event.

“We see regulations can be an enabler, such as post-study work rights, and allowing students to mix, and these are things we can solve.” But he added that the question of affordability in student housing had not been adequately addressed and there was no general support for subsidies.

Looking ahead to future plans, Frank said there was a need for more data and research “to quantify and qualify the impact accommodation can have on the life of students and their choices”.

The Class Conference 2016 will take place from November 9-10, with the location to be confirmed at a later date.

Matthew Knott
News Editor


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