Research article

Housing Students: The Future of City Accommodation?

Vibrant global cities are attractive places for young people to live and study in. These ‘long stay’ visitors need accommodation, and specialist providers are making inroads into meeting that need


The need to accommodate students has been driven by rapid growth in higher education enrolment worldwide. Student numbers were boosted in the wake of the global financial crisis as a weaker job market meant more people sought to improve their skills. The number of students studying outside their home country has grown even faster. More than four million students did so in 2013, compared to just two million in 2000. Their numbers are forecast to reach eight million by 2025.

The drive to accommodate these students has failed to keep pace so the supply of purpose-built student housing, even in mature markets, remains low. Provision rates range from 24% in the UK to just 6% in Spain and Australia.


For students, secure, well managed, quality accommodation from a trusted provider is appealing. Providers have sought out cities with high proportions of international students and adapted models from the US and UK to suit local context, laws and customs.

In new markets, hybrid products have helped to spread risk. The Student Hotel, first developed in the Netherlands, offers quality accommodation on a short-term basis, aimed at students but open to everyone. In Germany, private, purpose-built student accommodation comes mainly in the form of studios.

Far from being a ‘noisy nuisance’, students are being used as a tool in some cities to regenerate entire neighbourhoods. The first occupiers at London’s King’s Cross redevelopment were 5,000 university students and staff from Central Saint Martins college, supported by onsite purpose-built accommodation. These students helped to establish a cultural and creative heart by ensuring, from the outset, that the area was busy and vibrant at all times of day for a host of uses.


First-tier world cities such as London, Sydney and New York are characterised by high land values and competing demand for the development of other asset classes. It is no coincidence that most purpose-built accommodation to date has focused on the premium market. When combined with tuition fees and living costs, study in these markets can be extremely expensive (see fig. 1).

Figure 1

FIGURE 1Monthly cost of international student living and study

Source: Savills World Research

With the fastest growth in student numbers due to come from emerging markets, there is huge untapped demand for accommodation at lower price points.

Cities such as Dubai and Kuala Lumpur are establishing themselves as regional, low-cost education hubs. Branch campuses of established institutions in these markets have been effective in raising the quality of the local higher education offer. They allow students from the host country and surrounding region to study at a respected foreign university without having to move abroad – a cost-effective option, particularly for students from emerging economies. Purpose-built accommodation is an important element of this. It brings new housing designed to international standards for students to these new markets.


The sector may offer a glimpse into the future for approaches to city development generally. Not only are innovations in student housing challenging traditional residential typologies, accommodation for students is also being used as a catalyst to shape city neighbourhoods and entire cities.

Buildings and neighbourhoods need to be flexible to respond to changing demographics and occupier requirements. Time has shown that the most successful and enduring city districts are those that have the sort of stock that allow multiple uses and are easily changed from residential, to workspace, to retail to hospitality and back again.

Accommodating students also gives a glimpse into the role of young people and their housing preferences. Reliable, high-speed internet has proved an essential feature of any scheme, but location remains important too.

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