REALX: Desire for ‘the uni experience’ benefits PBSA

(Top L to R) Richard Betts, Douglas Edwards, (Bottom) Samuel Vetrak, Brian Welsh.

The success of PBSA in the UK will be replicated in other European countries, delegates heard at the Student Housing, Micro-living and co-living briefing which was held online at REALX.Global, the virtual trade fair organised by Real Asset Media.

Many key markets offer opportunities, like Italy, Spain, Poland, Portugal, Ireland, Denmark and the Scandinavian countries. There is an element of planning and development risk, but the potential rewards are huge.

Looking at the short-term, the other positive for the sector is that all over Europe students want to return to their University and attend lessons in person as they see remote learning as a poor alternative to normal lessons.

‘Students study online because they have to, not because they want to,’ said Samuel Vetrak, CEO, Bonard. ‘In some cities, 50% of international students arrived at their PBSA even if teaching was online only, because they wanted the experience, the social life and the feeling of being there, even if it means having to quarantine’.

Most universities take the hybrid approach

Most universities, however, have chosen a blended or hybrid model involving a mix of virtual and in person teaching. Experiences vary in every country and every city, but ‘most students want to go back, that’s a clear trend, and Uni enrolments have gone up,’ said Brian Welsh, CEO, Nido Student. ‘The problem has been travel restrictions. Ireland, for example, has raised more barriers to international students than the UK’.

The UK, Italy, Germany, France and Spain have allowed foreign students to return to the country and to their accommodation.

There has been an increase in domestic students renting rooms, as many foreign students have had problems travelling. But overall Bonard calculates that PBSA occupancy across Europe is now above 80% and rental levels are still competitive. ‘No discounts have been given,’ said Vetrak. ‘We are positively surprised by how resilient the sector has been, especially compared to other asset classes’.

PBSA operators have taken proactive approach

PBSA operators have made their positive contribution, experts agreed: they have been very proactive and have worked very hard to focus on wellbeing, closing public areas down, establishing clear facial covering, social distancing and sanitation rules, enforcing discipline and creating a safe environment for students.

The expectation is that in 2021 normality will return. ‘The sector will be more dependent on domestic students for the foreseeable future as international mobility is impaired, but next year we expect foreign students, including from Asia, to be back,’ said Vetrak. ‘It will be a good year’.