Research article

Who’s active in the student market?

A variety of institutional investors are increasingly active in the market. But, developer owner-operators still play a key role

As student housing has matured as an asset class, the types of businesses investing in the sector have changed. At first, pioneer developers held and operated their own stock. Later, sovereign wealth funds and private investors began buying stock as their appetite for alternative assets grew.

Now, a growing variety of pension funds, institutions, and insurers actively invest in student housing. These institutions, many of which invest internationally, accounted for around half of all student housing investment volume between 2011 and 2018.

Figure 2

Investment into student housing by investor type
Source: Savills Research using RCA

While consolidation and portfolio acquisitions have driven investment volumes in the last few years, specialist developer owner-operators continue to play a key role in the expansion of the sector and the development of new stock.

They have accounted for 34% of investment into student accommodation since 2011, and 47% of all volumes globally in 2018. By contrast, a quarter of office investment is by developer owner-operators. Greystar, Scion Group and GSA Group are the largest specialists, together investing over $11bn in the last three years.

Investment managers made up a third of institutional investment over the past three years. Mapletree Investments has been the most active over the period, first entering the student market in 2016 with the purchase of the 25 property Ardent portfolio the UK. The Singapore based company has since invested $2.2bn in student housing globally, according to RCA.

Source: Savills Research using RCA

There are two ways institutional buying power is increasing for student housing. First, they are raising specialist residential funds. Second, investors are allocating a greater proportion of existing funds to residential (of which student is a key sub-class).

In Europe, the largest cross border institutional players include Brookfield Asset Management and Allianz. Large developer owner-operators present include Greystar, GSA Group and The Student Hotel. The latter currently operates 11 properties across Europe, with plans to have 41 properties in European cities by 2021. The Student Hotel operates a hybrid model serving both students and other short stay occupiers.

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