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Space to room

Universities are living through challenging times. There is increased competition to attract the best students against a backdrop of rising fees and a growing expectation of service delivery. Peter Taylor, strategic development director for education at Sodexo, explains what this means for the FM sector.

Today’s students are increasingly consumer orientated; if they have to pay up to £9,000 in tuition fees per year then they expect more in return for that investment. And it’s not just about the academic performance of the university. All aspects of student life, including accommodation, is taken into account when students are choosing a place to study.

Gone are the days when the majority of students lived in university-owned halls of residence, sometimes run-down accommodation with a number of students sharing the same facilities. According to the 2012 Sodexo/Times Higher Education(THE) University Lifestyle Survey, around a third of all students now live in purpose-built accommodation, whether university-owned or privately-funded developments, and en-suite and self-catered accommodation are now dominating the sector.

At the same time the number of university-provided beds has been falling in line with a rise in privately-funded developments. In 2006, 40 per cent of students were living in university-provided accommodation, in 2012 this had dropped to 28 per cent. This figure includes both university halls of residence and individual houses used to accommodate students. Because of the introduction of tuition fees combined with challenging economic conditions, an increasing number of students are opting to live at home and commute to university. In 2012 the number stood at 18 per cent according to the survey, up from 13 per cent in 2008 and 17 per cent in 2010.

After a clear movement towards all en-suite cluster flats, with shared kitchen and dining facilities, there is now a shift with students seeking more variety of accommodation at different price entry points, in addition to a more diverse range of prerequisites based around their individual requirements. This sees demand for both budget accommodation with shared facilities and twin-bed rooms through to studios and two bedroom flats. A small but significant number of students also seek concierge services, including dry cleaning, hire cars and airport collection. It is not unusual for overseas students to advance purchase all the items they will require for living in their new surroundings. In short, today’s students want more than just a room.

Universities everywhere now look to support all aspects of the student experience more fully, including study, social life and rest. This is where facilities management service providers can really make a difference, working with universities and private developers helping to shape the future of student accommodation in the UK.

About Sarah OBeirne

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