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More support needed for ‘commuter students’, says new report

  • 13 December 2018

The Government and higher education institutions should do more to support students who live away from campus – often in the parental home – and who commute long distances to study, according to a new report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).

Homeward Bound: Defining, understanding and aiding ‘commuter students’ (HEPI Report 114) has been written by Professor David Maguire, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Greenwich, and David Morris, the Vice-Chancellor’s Policy Officer at the University of Greenwich.

The report has been sponsored by University Partnerships Programme (UPP), the UK’s leading provider of on-campus student accommodation infrastructure and support services.

The paper considers the experiences of students who live in the parental home during university. They have poorer outcomes than those who move away from home and are less engaged and satisfied with their academic experiences.

Almost one-in-ten (9 per cent) commuter students would not have entered higher education if they could make their decision again, which is higher than for any other group.

The report also finds:

  • commuter students are more likely to be first-in-family students, to come from a lower-income household, to be mature students and to have an ethnic minority background;
  • at 10 universities, over half the students live in the parental or guardian home, including City University London, the University of Wolverhampton and the University of Bradford; and
  • institutions with a lower proportion of commuter students are more likely to achieve higher student satisfaction scores.

The report includes five case studies – including the University of Manchester, Staffordshire University and Anglia Ruskin University – which explain how they support their commuter students.

The report ends with recommendations for policymakers and universities:

  • the Post-18 Education and Funding Review should ensure concerns about the cost of living are not restricting students’ choices on where to live;
  • the Teaching Excellence Framework and other assessments of universities should take into account the proportion of each university’s students who commute; and
  • higher education institutions should help commuter students by:
    • adapting induction;
    • re-organising timetables;
    • creating online support communities for commuter students;
    • re-thinking the use of their space and improving facilities aimed at commuter students;
    • implementing ride-share schemes and focusing on travel safety; and
    • providing co- and extra-curricular activities during the day and early evening.

Professor David Maguire, one of the authors of the report, said:

Living off campus and commuting to study is much more common that many people think. At many universities, it is the norm.

Yet the needs of commuters are poorly understood. They are hardly ever considered in policies and assessment metrics such as the National Student Survey and the Teaching Excellence Framework. This needs to change if commuter students are to be served better.

David Morris, co-author of the report, said:

British universities have historically been run on the assumption that students will live with other students, on or close to campus. But that is not the case for many.

If access to higher education is to go on widening, then more students will need to commute to university. Universities must ensure everyone has an equal chance of succeeding, irrespective of their accommodation.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

Many students fall behind their peers after entering higher education. One huge group of students that can find it especially hard to settle and thrive are those who live at home and commute to their lectures and seminars.

Tackling the challenges commuter students face is not rocket science and it doesn’t even need to cost much. But it does need a commitment to considering their needs across all of a university’s policies. The overall goal must be to help commuter students integrate and succeed.

Jon Wakeford, Group Director of Strategy and Communications at UPP said:

Universities and student accommodation providers need to continue to enhance the student experience and journey, to support the creation of sticky campuses and student communities which position students to achieve their full potential.

As a sector, we must better understand the requirements of commuter students to ensure all students can access a rounded, interactive and immersive experience.

Notes for Editors

  • The Higher Education Policy Institute’s mission is to ensure that higher education policy-making is better informed by evidence and research. We are UK-wide, independent and non-partisan.
  • University Partnerships Programme (UPP) is the UK’s leading provider of on campus student accommodation infrastructure and support services. They have over 35,000 rooms in operation or under construction (with a further 2,000 rooms at preferred bidder stage) through long-term, bespoke partnerships with 16 world-leading universities. With over 800 employees, since 1998 UPP has invested well over £2.5 billion in the UK higher education sector and provided homes to over 310,000 students. They create bespoke long-term partnerships which enable universities to make the most effective use of their assets, free up resources and improve student services. This includes funding, designing, developing and operating high-quality and affordable accommodation on campus and delivering the very best student experience in partnership with universities. The unique partnership approach enables university partners to develop their estates whilst reinvesting in their core services of teaching and research. UPP funds, designs and builds new on-campus residential and academic accommodation infrastructure, complete estate transfers and operate facilities over the long-term. Transactions are typically undertaken on a demand-risk-transfer basis through a non-recourse approach, with the asset returning to the university in an agreed condition at the end of the concession. Partners are encouraged to take an equity share in the project company so that both parties benefit from the successful delivery and performance of the accommodation, with interests aligned over the life of the partnership. For further information, see

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