Hayley Mintern (MRG Business Sector Director) recently caught up with James Brant (Commercial Director Europe for CRM Students), to discuss the key trends and learnings from Europe, as the rising student population look for a higher quality housing offering.
Why do you think we are seeing a rise in PBSA across Europe?
As European study destinations continue to grow, providing quality PBSA to support the student experience and drive performance is becoming more critical. Traditionally many European universities have focused on domestic and commuting students, but this is changing, and we are seeing similarities to the UK marketplace. Going to university is about more than just lectures: it’s the first opportunity to live independently, often away from hometowns, cities, or home countries.
What are the key differences?
Each country in Europe is very different and you can’t have a one size fits all approach. For example, in Germany and Poland the buildings operate under a more lean model and the students want to live more independently so the operating model reflects this. In Spain and Italy, it is very much a family affair; often the whole family attend viewings so we have to allow for more time, and this requires a higher number of staff. The offering is also very pastoral with closer links to the universities. Food forms a big part of the cultural experience with many of the buildings offering a catered service, something that we have moved away from in the UK. Even where catering isn't offered, dining spaces and communal lounges for eating are very popular.
Are the operating models similar?
Broadly the site teams are very similar although we do have slightly more staff on the sites across southern Europe to support with the demands of the students and universities. We’re talking broad brush here though, the key is to make sure your operating model is tailored correctly to the nuance of each territory.
What are the key learnings from the UK offering?
With the UK being a more mature market, we have a large variety of stock at different price points. In Southern Europe twin rooms and cluster flats are increasingly becoming popular, whereas in Northern Europe it is very much single rooms. We are starting to see the variation coming in new developments, for example in Spain there is a real community driver and the planning applications are reflecting this, with larger social spaces (on average three to five times larger than the UK) and 4-8 room cluster flats are becoming increasingly popular.
The main thing is ensuring you have researched the cultural model and challenges of the country and you have the right supply for market conditions. This is really similar to the UK, where each city has its own DNA; just because something works in London or Manchester doesn’t mean it will work in Belfast or Exeter.
What trend would you like to see in the UK?
The social feel that we see in our Spanish and Italian properties. We have large, shared kitchens where there could be 50 people cooking, eating and socialising. The sense of community is something that is special. The buildings also have fully functioning gyms where students are encouraged to train together. Planning somewhat drives these spaces but they help to create very strong communities.
Which cities are the ones to watch?
Milan – There is certainly lots of opportunity there, and the market is undersupplied.
Spain is all about focussing on the regional cities and moving away from Madrid and Barcelona, where there has been lots of investment over the last couple of years. Madrid and Barcelona are still really strong cities but there is an incredible amount of untapped demand outside them.
Poland is certainly an emerging market, and they are very friendly to PBSA given the rental culture that exists and a very favourable view from planners.
As a bit of a curve ball Tallinn in Estonia and Budapest in Hungary, although I expect this to be a more blended offering, they place a high regard on education and are planning friendly. Central Eastern Europe is certainly one to watch over the next few years.
With over €9.2bn invested in purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) across Europe in 2020, the largest annual investment so far, we are really excited to see how the European offering develops over the next couple of years.
If you want to speak to Hayley about how she can help with your PBSA recruitment needs, either in the UK or overseas, get in touch with her today.