the class of 2020 - radar - interviews
December 17th, 2020

Authors: The Class of 2020 & BONARD

Update: The Academic Year in Nine Key European Study Destinations

  • Despite growing COVID-19 cases and many European countries re-entering lockdown, student demand for accommodation has not changed much since September results of the BONARD and The Class of 2020 collaborative research  
  • Universities are delivering learning at an 80:20 ratio online to in-person compared with 50:50 ambitions in September  
  • Uncertainty over student departure and returns of holiday period remains 

When The Class of 2020 and BONARD co-research on this topic was released in September, we quoted Forrest Gump’s famous adage of uncertainty- “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”  

Indeed, the unprecedented start of the academic year amidst a global pandemic threw the European higher education and PBSA communities into a period of unknowns. Three months later, this uncertainty has reduced to some degree as nations and regions have maintained more consistent methods of containing the virus, students and parents have become less afraid and operators have demonstrated competency in preventing and managing outbreaks. However, as we head into the holiday period, question marks remain over which home countries and destinations will accept in and out mobility and what impact this may have on return numbers.  

This joint research project with our legacy partner BONARD aims to provide up-to-date information to assist industry leaders in making further strategic decisions to create more sustainable knowledge ecosystems for global talent amidst the pandemic. In this second phase, the coalition releases a snapshot of the current situation in nine key European study destinations; Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the UK. This takes into consideration multiple variables that can impact student mobility, with the information gathered from trusted sources as of December 2020. 

International students with valid residence permits can arrive in Austria but depending on whether they are considered to come from a safe zone, they may be subject to a mandatory COVID-19 test and quarantine for 10 days. Certain Austrian embassies and consulates are issuing visas, students from third countries holding a valid “residence permit – student” from another EU member state and participating in a mobility program are entitled to enter and stay visa-free in Austria for up to 360 days. On September 4, the Austrian government presented the new Corona Traffic Light System that will guide Austria, and specifically schools, in the future. The system consists of four lights – green, yellow, orange, and red. Only schools with red light are a subject of distance learning. Thus, the majority of schools still operate with a mix of online/on-campus classes with restrictions specific to each traffic light. Restrictions apply particularly to gatherings, social distancing, and the wearing of masks in public spaces. Most social activities are permitted, incl. on-campus life under precautions and health and safety measures. Accommodation services are resumed as well incl. student residences. From November 3, lockdown measures to be introduced. They include, inter alia, a national surfew, restrictions of travel, and distance study at the universities. As most international students in Austria come from Germany or other EU countris (more than 70% of international students) the mobility will not be largely impacted. Still, some Austrian universities have already faced a decrease in international student numbers.

The above regional snapshots present some assurance that global student mobility is less volatile than was experienced during the early months of the pandemic, as many countries have maintained more predictable approaches to international movement and in some instances, students have been treated as exceptions in visa issuance or quarantine requirements. As a result, student demand has so far proven to be neither positive nor negative in this climate. In some markets, this has left occupancies oscillating between financial feasibility and unfeasibility, while others see more stability. In terms of investment and capital demand, the relative normalisation of the pandemic conditions, evidenced in this data snapshot, assures many investors and operators that more students will be back on campus in September 2021. While timelines for vaccine delivery vary per country, the recent advances in vaccination support a positive long-term outlook.  

However, the upcoming holiday season will present a test for PBSA operators, universities, and destination countries, especially given the dramatic reduction (in some cases down 50%) in flights between home and destination countries across Europe and a lack of certainty surrounding how policymakers could treat greater crossborder student mobility during this time. It could be that a decline in occupancy is experienced in the next semester if students decide to travel to and remain in their home countries, especially given the higherthanexpected rate of online teaching.