Understanding the Drivers for Student Residences

Simon Kendall
Universities remain under pressure to deliver accommodation for growing student numbers. How can they find deliverable, affordable solutions which fit the business case?

Universities now compete openly for students and funds, and this has contributed to a new generation of more discerning students. Accommodation has therefore moved up the list of student priorities and universities are under pressure to deliver inspiring environments that offer quality, connectivity, safety and security. The ability to provide a space in a good-quality, well-located residence has become a recruitment differentiator being one of many key indicators students look at when considering a University place.

These residences should support the development of the students in their care, be cost effective to build, operate and maintain, and remain competitive in the local marketplace. It’s a tall order – and one that must be achieved at a time when capital funds are stretched which has led to a variety of funding approaches being considered by University providers.

Social interaction space is a growing priority, especially in multi-purpose formats...

There are many considerations, with flat configurations for specific groups, notably student families and disabled students, becoming an important part of the mix with a growing number of ‘independent living’ units being provided. In the more typical cluster units numbers vary from the more prevalent five or six student flats up to eight and ten bed student flats, ensuite provision is the norm, and kitchen/dining facilities have become more important as fully catered accommodation continues to decline.

Social interaction space is a growing priority, especially in multi-purpose formats: communal study space, larger dining areas, space for exercise classes or showing films may be part of the residence or form a social hub outside of the main accommodation but in the same block. In an increasingly health aware society outdoor facilities, such as exercise trails / trim tracks, are growingly seen as must have provisions for University owned accommodation facilities.

Study bedrooms are the most intensively used part of a development and are the greater part of the budget. There are few opportunities for value engineering here, as only 30 to 40 per cent of the cost per room varies according to area. Quality and functionality will be affected by reducing the budget, although optimising density and layout options will help. Typically bedroom sizes range from 11 - 13 square metres, and the proportion of study bedroom space to gross internal area is around 50 to 60 per cent of the total.

Both client groups are seeking best value and ease of construction, certainty of delivery of the accommodation in time for new student intakes is critical...

University-owned accommodation is not the only option. Specialist developer-operators provide an alternative, especially in London and other large cities. On some schemes the developer works speculatively and independently, acquiring the site, securing planning permission, building the facility and marketing directly to students. On other schemes the developer is in partnership with an institution, and offers the rooms on behalf of that institution. New and hybrid models of provision continue to emerge.

Both client groups are seeking best value and ease of construction, certainty of delivery of the accommodation in time for new student intakes is critical to any investment plans. The potential for modular construction to accelerate the build programme is of interest to all providers, and needs to be balanced against budget requirements and business case drivers. Most projects include a certain amount of modular construction, as a minimum bathroom pods are commonly specified, early contractor engagement is paramount to secure certainty of delivery, however there are many procurement vehicles which can be used to secure this.

Our project management and commercial management services are aimed at achieving best value for our clients. We use our expertise to align the university’s aims with capital and operating costs, payback periods, regulatory concerns and quality standards. We find deliverable, affordable solutions which fit the business case and satisfy institutions and students alike.