the class of 2020 - radar - interviews
May 4th, 2020

Monday Update: The Importance of Flexibility in Shaping the New Student Accommodation Reality

Yoony Kim
Managing Director
The Class of 2020

Last week our community discussed how student accommodation spaces might look and operate post-pandemic. As questions regarding the long-term form and future of internationalization continue, conversations revealed a willingness to think creatively, and the energy towards addressing evolving challenges is palpable.

Here we highlight key findings from our conversations last week to help shape priorities this week.

Winners & Losers

Universities are traditionally cautious to innovate, given their complex networks of stakeholders and rigid organizational structures. However, in the past weeks universities quickly pivoted to online delivery, with 85.1% of current surveyed students saying they are now taking classes online. A promising sign of the higher education sectors’ ability to rise to the current challenges. However, it remains to be seen whether and which universities will be able to overcome their constraints. The speakers at Tuesday’s Student Housing Investment Webinar hosted by BONARD and Real Assest Investment Briefings predicted an acceleration of the top universities and cities in attracting students. During the same webinar, experts predicted that institutional investors will continue to see long term returns from student housing. Pointing to the sectors’ rise in demand in Asia from the bottom of the line to third most in demand.

Additionally, last week saw International Hospitality Media CEO Piers Brown predict the hospitality and real estate winners and losers in the urban living space post-COVID-19. Coliving being a “winner” and short-term rentals a “loser”. Brown classified student accommodation as “to be determined” citing familiar concerns surrounding international student mobility and long-term shifts to the delivery of higher education.

Industry Priorities

Last week’s conversations uncovered three new priorities for our industry:

  1. Flexibility & Functionality: A few weeks ago, our community anticipated the importance of flexible contracts in student accommodation post-Covid-19. But this week we saw the conversation shift to spaces themselves. How might common spaces and rooms be used differently from now on? What kind of furnishings facilitate social distancing? Will students be spending more or less time studying in their rooms? Will there be an additional need for study spaces as online learning may continue? Developers are already having to factor in some potentially radical changes to the spatial design of schemes they are currently in the process of delivering. The key to accommodation design in this environment (and beyond) will be flexibility and functionality. By minimizing fixed furnishings and maintaining highly dynamic and customizable spaces will help keep buildings relevant for any upcoming and future changes.
  2. Reality & Perception: As our community has speculated on the new health and safety measures that may be needed, it has become clear that health and safety will be both a standard, protocols and design game and a perception game. Cleaning regimes and processes will, of course, be highly important, but so too will be resident understanding of these health and safety measures. Whether it is the perception of certain fabrics being more sanitary than others or the way protocols are communicated with residents, making sure residents recognise their living environments to be as clean as they are will be an additional challenge. Here, consistent and clear communication of cleaning measures and rules for shared spaces will be imperative.
  3. Shared Living Benefits: As the coliving community has found, the value of living in a community not only persists through this pandemic but seems to be even stronger, as residents able to isolate together provide mutual support and companionship. Shared living providers have a huge opportunity to emphasise the benefits of shared living towards eliminating urban loneliness and enhancing broader wellbeing.