Sector - Housing

Meeting the housing needs of tomorrow’s student population

Technology and a desire for inter-connectivity are shaping the behaviour of tomorrow’s students. Post-millennials, or Generation Z, are the new generation in town – digital natives living in a hyper-connected world. Having grown up being surrounded by smart technology, this generation has a confident and savvy understanding of its value and appreciates the access to technological platforms providing entertainment, information and communication. Moreover, Gen Z is also concerned about societal challenges and conscious about the world around them; they care about their wider community and environment.

It is this connection to technology, community and environment, which is most profoundly impacting the way in which purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) providers are adapting their products to meet changing customer needs.

The only constant is change

In mature markets such as the UK, PBSA providers have sought to compete by either having a premium location, product differentiation or by striving to become price leaders. While there is a finite number of premium locations which providers can obtain, there can also only be one price leader in a market. Most providers, therefore, must compete by differentiating their product and services.

However, this is nothing new – we’ve seen product differentiation as a key element for developers since the creation of PBSA in the early 1990s. While student housing used to be limited to halls of residences with shared toilets at the end of the hall, PBSA has exponentially raised industry standards by moving accomodation from simply including wash basins in students’ rooms 25 years ago to incorporating fully integrated smart technology to ensuite rooms as standard.

Many residences are now fully equipped with a digital locking system, smart rental payment, high-speed WiFi to accommodate the increasing simultaneous usage of devices; all incorporated to enhance convenience and improve the overall living experience. Technology is also embedded in the buildings themselves, with a rise in smart heating systems and water-storing roofs.

Nevertheless, for Gen Z customers, we must offer a holistic, service-led experience. Given advancements in technology, and the demand from customers for greater interaction, connectivity and collaboration, the traditional view that a student will spend most of their time behind a desk is long gone.

GSA is finding that customers are increasingly happy to sacrifice personal space for a more premium location and greater connectivity with their peers. Our team has been instrumental in pioneering a new affordable offer, whereby a student’s personal space has increased in efficiency to allow for first-class social areas, which in turn, allows for greater community engagement and service delivery. This new affordable product has been adopted in two of GSA’s newest residences – Hakusan House in Tokyo, operated by our Uninest Student Residences brand and University Square in Melbourne, operated by our The Student Housing Company brand. However, this is only the beginning, as constant learning from our customers will continue to evolve our new product deveopment in the coming years

It’s all in the space

Creating livable spaces helps deliver wider educational needs and plays a key role in the development of students as individuals; shaping and assisting in their specific studies and creating a link between city and university campus. It is for this reason, that creative community areas are now at the heart of PBSA developments worldwide. While previous generations of products have included gyms, cinema and games rooms, newer schemes are finding imaginative alternatives to appeal to the changing customer base.

Our community in Dubailand provides customers with a rooftop swimming pool, while our Ardcairn House residence in Dublin, which is opened in September, introduced a bowling alley.

The opportunities for delivering innovative community space are boundless and we are not far from seeing roof-top mini golf courses or multi-sport pitches, innovation hubs, biotech and life science labs, or karaoke booths that double up as presentation rooms. Furthermore, with technology constantly developing, how far are we from providing onsite virtual reality devices and 3D printing in our student residences? As the technology and hardware continue to evolve to become mainstream for the consumer, prices will drop, and there will be endless possibilities for the future of student living. And since student accommodation has been the precursor to innovation within the residential sector, we can see these innovations moving into places like PRS and serviced apartments soon.

Future-proofing student housing

Future-proofing the PBSA sector to enhance learning will continue to evolve as technology continues to advance. In an ever-changing cityscape adapting to meet the needs of society, student housing must do the same. Innovation, adaptability and creating integrated spaces for our future leaders is the only way PBSA investors, developers and operators will be able to cement the need and demand for accommodation in the future.

Article submitted by Aaron Maskrey, Head of Research & Intelligence at GSA
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