UK planning the main barrier to development of affordable student accommodation schemes

6th December 2016

UK planning the main barrier to development of affordable student  accommodation schemes
  • Collegiate AC lays out vision for the future of UK student accommodation
  • University funding cuts and student grants mean new solutions required
  • Planning regulations pose greatest threat to affordable student housing

Luxury student accommodation provider Collegiate AC has laid out its vision of a future where high quality student housing is available for all.

Universities and students have faced a number of financial challenges in recent years. The 2014/15 academic year saw university teaching budgets slashed by almost 6% as the Higher Education Funding Council for England sought to reduce costs.

This year, students themselves have been hit in the pocket by the government’s scrapping of maintenance grants. With universities able to raise their tuition fees above the rate of inflation from 2017/18, students’ ability to afford their education doesn’t look set to get any easier anytime soon. 

How, then, is a company known for providing high-end accommodation seeking to create a more affordable university accommodation landscape for all?

Collegiate CEO Heriberto Cuanalo comments, 

“Higher education is increasingly important and increasingly expensive, creating serious challenges for many of our young people. One of those challenges is about choice and affordability of high quality student housing. Collegiate delivers market- leading assets that set high standards for the student experience, and we see the development of greater choice in the marketplace as a positive factor.

“However, we’re also working with individual universities to enable them to implement some of our class-leading designs into university projects, helping to develop more affordable beds through refurbishment and upgrade programmes.”

Cuanalo himself has seen university accommodation from all angles, completing an undergraduate degree and later a postgraduate degree, by which time he was working alongside his studies to pay his tuition fees, cover his rent and feed and clothe his three young children. Those children have now themselves attended university, while Cuanalo has worked as a university lecturer. He is certainly familiar with some of the challenges faced by the accommodation sector. 

One of the main barriers to the development of more affordable contemporary student accommodation schemes, according to Collegiate, is the UK planning system. Inflated land values make it all but impossible for the private sector to build cheaper accommodation, while the universities themselves are entirely priced out of the market.

One solution is the work being undertaken by Collegiate and others to translate the innovations in their schemes into more affordable developments by using advances in technology and achieving economies of scale. As choice within the marketplace grows, led by higher-end schemes, their standards and design will be replicated at lower cost throughout the sector.

As Cuanalo explains,

“Premium schemes are not the problem. They often set new standards and technologies that cheaper schemes can follow. What we need is more investment and supply at the more affordable end of the market; we all recognise that there is a larger market at a cheaper level.

“The solution is to deregulate planning to free up supply and accelerate the availability of high quality accommodation choices within the investment market, focusing on where the greatest opportunity lies as competition increases. That is how efficient markets work, but with the barriers presented by unhelpful planning regulations they will always face artificially high costs.”

The government also has its role to play in working to create a new economic climate in which grants are once more available to students from low income families and students can look forward to the prospect of high-paying jobs to help them repay their debts. The Brexit process is set to create both challenges and opportunities in this respect.

As Collegiate’s Eri Cuanalo concludes,

“We have the chance to develop into a truly advanced economy of high-skilled workers. We need to back that progress through appropriate policies that allow the UK’s higher education sector to flourish in all respects. The future is bright if we don’t limit it.”

For more information, contact Collegiate on +44 1235 250 140 or visit www.collegiate-ac.com.

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