The year 2020 proved what we could have only imagined could happen overnight. Like many, we feel that the transformations we see happening right now were bound to happen eventually but that the pandemic has prompted acceleration. In a fast-forwarded future, many of us have barely had time to adjust, let alone look ahead. On 19th of November, 2020, we hosted The Class Graduation Conference: Fast-forwarding Our Future with some of the most provocative thinkers and practitioners to challenge over 900 delegates from higher education, real estate, technology, investment, co-working, co-living, and of course, student living for exactly that reason: to look ahead to make a better future happen faster for our global talent.
Graduation from education to learning without boundaries
There is no doubt that education does and will play a key role in the growth of individuals, institutions, cities, and society. However, the current health and mobility crisis has prompted the entire education industry to think again, reshaping the landscape by breaking down the boundaries that created limitations for global talent to have capabilities and choices to design their optimal learning pathway. The four trends we identified as the driving force of education paradigm shifts are:
- Bedroom Campus: Anywhere learning will push the industry to collaborate.
- Education Europass: Securing diversity and accessibility will surpass mobility.
- On-Demand Learning: Rising new skill sets needed will require students to be empowered to design individual learning pathways. Anytime learning will challenge the current education system.
- Touchless Interaction: The need for high-tech, high touch for personal development and well-being will intensify.
The switch to anywhere learning has the ability to push industries to collaborate more closely as Gohar Hovhannisyan, President of the European Student Union stated “There are a lot of students who don’t have the conditions at home to study their course from home in a calm atmosphere. As a student union representative, I would prioritize this on an institutional level with universities, but also on a governmental level with policymakers.” In essence “The city will become the campus” said Martin Paul, President of Maastricht University and Chair of Young University for the Future of Europe, “Going away from the concept that a university is a building or group of buildings on the periphery of the city, to really have small spaces where students can learn. We need to break down walls between faculties, students, and citizens. These new learning spaces will become spaces for interaction between citizens, bringing students together with other members of society.”
Technology can be leveraged towards this aim. David Gibson, Education Partner Strategy Leader of Microsoft also added “Technology allows us to think differently about where a student is, how a student is navigating through a course of study, and how diverse that study becomes. The diversity of experience becomes not just a moral imperative but existential for technology companies like Microsoft as we move forward.” In combination with technological advancements, the traditional learning paradigm will be shaken. All agreed that the need for personalized learning pathways is crucial as “The classical system of spending three to four years on a bachelor’s will break down and lifelong learning will be a new business model for universities” according to Martin Paul. At his institution, Maastricht University, they are already experimenting with micro-credentials and other achievements such as interning and being politically active together with technology enablers and flexible learners.
Graduation from Spaces to Solutions
The above paradigm shifts suggest that a blended future, where there will be blurring of boundaries of living, working, and learning is just around the corner. This will force real estate to think beyond traditional asset classes once divided by core functionality and rethink the value and purpose that space can offer to customers and investors alike. According to Dror Poleg, author of Rethinking Real Estate and conference keynote, “In a world of abundance, the best way to create value is to tap into new scarcity, into things that are becoming more precious in this world. Currently, there is a scarcity of human connection, privacy, truth, meaning & agency, and education.” Experts were invited to validate five key trends that push real estate paradigm shifts forward:
- Community Technology: Technology will redefine basic assumptions about location, visibility, zoning, capital, and information in real estate. Digital innovation will allow brands to understand and design consumer-focused solutions to living needs.
- Sustainability Fast-Forward: Critical young consumers and increasingly strict sustainable investment criteria will mean that successful real estate players will be pushed to create low carbon and socially sustainable urban living solutions.
- Purpose-Driven Brands: The ability to articulate values and purpose will be a key differentiator for real estate operators and asset managers to co-create portfolios with institutional investors and increased public and private partnerships.
- Good Life Communities: Hybridisation that provides well-being solutions in the urban context will continue as both customers and institutional investors see the long term value blended experiences deliver in terms of society and investment returns.
- Ultra-Flexibility: Customer-focused flexibility and community will remain as the key value proposition to respond to a fast-changing environment.
Esther Bahne, Co-CEO and CMO of Quarters opened the discussion by emphasizing the importance of understanding customers, saying “We have you for an average nine months. You live with us. You arrive with a suitcase. There is something fundamentally changing in your life. So, we have you at a moment where everything is changing. You are wanting to meet new people and you’re hungry for connection and wanting to belong. Understanding that helps us understand what we need to do for you.” Hans Op ‘t Veld, Head of Responsible Investment at PGGM Investment added “A lot of intuitional investors need to reinvent themselves. We are no longer in an economy where ownership is everything. Now access is much more important.” He continued “The assessment of your unique selling point goes well beyond the provision of capital. This requires different expertise levels because it means that you have to look beyond location. We need to find the right collaboration with parties who can help us find the right balance between the provision of capital and the operational activity, which is something we don’t typically understand. This is a massive change and makes for an interesting period of time in which we are learning this.” Going deeper into the customer-centric approach, WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani shared how his company was trialling new flexible access passes even before the pandemic, as it became clear that customers were looking to find solutions for a range of needs. Esther Bahne echoed that flexibility is something we will see more and more. To Esther, the hub and spoke model espoused by Mathrani starts to make more sense the more opportunities there are to use the second and third places that people love. But Esther’s vision for flexibility is also collaborative. “I would add to the hub and spoke model that it doesn’t have to be your spaces. Collaborate as much as you can and don’t try to do everything on your own. It makes it easier, faster and more authentic. Partner with great spaces with a great offer and make that available.” As people look for human connection, belonging and meaningful experiences, membership logics that are inclusive and bring neighbourhoods together will thrive.
In addition to a customer-centric approach, sustainability as an example of serving the greater good was a key theme of the discussions. As each generation continues to become more aware of their role and impact on their surroundings, and institutional investors are also under pressure to deliver on sustainability goals, sustainability becomes a necessity in real estate, setting the precedent to create low-carbon and socially sustainable urban living solutions. “We try to figure out what people really want in that situation and build a curation around that. Think local, integrate, and respect your surroundings. If you build something that people truly love, you will find a way of making money”, said Esther Bahne. Hans Op ’T Veld agreed and said “We are trying to find this balance, which I don’t think is a trade-off, between a certain amount of longevity and what kind of tickets we can ride and what the social impact is. In the past, the goals that were formulated were purely financial. While we still have the requirement that markets return, we have a more continuous and exact focus on the sustainable aspect.”
Graduation from University Cities to Talent Hubs
Multiple trends are accelerating paradigm shifts and cities are no exception. Talent attraction is only the start of the challenge. The question is, how to retain global talent who can now choose to be anywhere. So, what are the key trends pushing university cities to transform into talent hubs during the next 10 years?
- Good Governance: Governance will become a key differentiator for cities’ ability to capture economic and investment opportunities.
- Quality of Life: The real estate community looks for civic value and contribution to wider goals. As pressure to move to a low carbon economy intensifies, how cities fast-track change will be a major consideration.
- Impact Investment: Investment in big urban projects that communicate value and vision will help cities attract and retain talent.
- Social Mobility: Investment in ecosystems that foster skills and networks for young talent will help cities recover and become resilient talent hubs.
- City & Nature: The countryside is making a comeback. Remote working and studying will generate new demand and opportunities for cities to interact with nature. Residences and rural campuses will become destinations for nurturing.
The above trends require cities to work harder to be chosen by the future generation as a destination, not only ‘to go to’ but ‘to be part of’. Drog Poleg agreed and said, “Until now, people came to the city because they needed something specific. Today they have other options, but they still want to go to a city that is fun, walkable, has a nice environment. Some cities will do well and others, that assume that people have no choice, are not going to do so well.” Tim Moonen, Managing Director of Business of Cities strongly endorses good governance as necessary for city success and added “There is an emerging realisation. If the last cycle was about the physical assets, and the environment in the metropolitan core, we are shifting towards hybrid revenue models, we’re looking at how to commercialize knowledge and not only about the city cores, but the more distributed ways people will work and live in cities. All of these things require not one stakeholder or visionary, but coherent ways in which whole cities are led and organised.” Carolien Gehrels, European Director at Acardis and former vice mayor of Amsterdam also advocates quality of life, sharing her maxim “If you build a city with a high standard of quality, you will always survive. When I advise city governors, I always say quality, quality, quality.” But how can good governance and quality be best achieved? “You need to put talent at the heart of your strategy. You need to put people at the centre of your city and focus on making them flourish. “Davide Dattoli, Co-founder and CEO of Talent Garden emphasised. Carolien endorsed Davide by saying “We’ve learned that cities are the places of citizens. So citizens need to be at the heart of your recovery strategy.” All experts confirmed the new triple bottom line: Purpose, people, planet maximising the (social) profit. In addition, cities also need a convincing story built around it. “People move to a city because they are signing up for a brand, they are signing up for a vision of where that city is going. Some cities do not project this very well. They don’t say we are open for business, open for students, and open for a new mix of population and industries.” Said Tim Moonen. With strong branding built around humanity, size may not matter. It will be more about what the city has to offer. Davide agrees, saying “At the beginning of the year, we thought people might all flee to the countryside. But we are seeing that the cities that are able to be attractive and create a balance between work and life will grow a lot. Here second cities have an opportunity to be more attractive.” Caroline adds “The polycentric city landscape creates a human scale.”
Fast-forward the Agenda for Living, learning, and working
The depth and width of knowledge and experience shared during The Conference united the community of multiple stakeholders. Yoony Kim, Managing Director of The Class of 2020 confirmed “We have the shared responsibility for the future generation and there’s a lot to do. It is time to prioritise and translate these visions into actions.” Frank Uffen, co-founder of The Class agreed and led the discussion with Charlie Macgregor, CEO of The Student Hotel, Marti Grimminck, founder of International connector, Steve Thompson, Senior Director, Learning and Talent Development at Greystar, Xavier Jongen, Managing Director of European Residential at Catella and put forward the priorities.
- Diversify Diversity: future generations need a diversity of choice, industry needs a diversity of experience and perspectives.
- Don’t Underestimate Social impact: serving a larger impact matters. It matters more than companies understand. People want to know that they are part of a bigger solution
- Embrace Complexity: our role is not to simplify complexity but to translate complexity into well-informed choices our future generation can make.
- Focus on Equality: Democratization of technology, flexibility, and accessibility should address fairness and equality to education and growth opportunities.
- Re-think Blended Living: every component of our daily lives is increasingly happening in and around where we live. Life itself will become a school of continuous learning with human interactions at different scales, enabled by blends. That requires a new approach to space and place.
- Empower our people: If we want to serve the future generation, we need to empower our people, the future of our industry. We need to keep pace with the fast-forwarded future with new skillsets and competencies.
- Collaborate & Learn: the only way to demonstrate our shared responsibility is via collaboration and learning. Playing solo is not an option in the era of paradigm shifts.
Xavier commented “I came in as a pessimist because we have a long list of issues in the world. I came out as an optimist.” It is all about what really matters: our responsibility towards the future generation in designing their own learning pathway to becoming the best leader they can be in the space and place we create together. The blended future will present a new set of possibilities to overcome what we perceived to be a barrier in becoming a community of global talent hubs. This one-of-a-kind year presented our community with a one-of-a-kind opportunity: to become students ourselves again. As students, we are able to think, learn, and act with our global talents to create solutions for the next generation and the cities they live in – the core purpose of our existence.
Revisit the Conference
Were you unable to attend our annual conference this year and are you curious to hear which trends will shape the future of our industry? No worries, we’ve created an on-demand playlist for you to watch whenever and wherever. You can either opt to rent or buy the entire series or only specific segments.