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William Whyte provides a timely and relevant contribution to the developing discussion on student accommodation and affordability

  • 14 November 2019
  • By Jon Wakeford

By Jon Wakeford, UPP’s Group Corporate Affairs Director and Chair of the UPP Foundation

Today, HEPI publishes its joint report with UPP, Somewhere to live: Why British students study away from home – and why it matters, by the historian William Whyte of St John’s College, Oxford.

It makes a vital contribution to current debates on higher education by exploring why such a high proportion of students in the UK opt to live away from home, what the impact of this has been and how residential student living might develop in the future. 

Today’s report launch comes off the back of a series of roundtable events that we co-hosted with HEPI at the Labour and Conservative Party Conferences in the autumn, which brought together senior figures from across higher education and leading political figures – including Lord Willetts and Lord Adonis – to consider the pattern of modern student living. The ensuing discussions have helped ensure the document being released today is topical and of value to institutions, students and policymakers.

Professor Whyte takes us on a fascinating journey from the medieval student experience, when universities were ‘bands of travelling scholars’, through the post-war period when living away from home was officially encouraged, to the present day when a much higher proportion of students than in most other countries opt to live away from home. UK student accommodation is now worth over £50 billion and is a fully-fledged and mature asset class of its own.

The report demonstrates that demand for student accommodation remains strong and that the proportion of young people who choose to leave home to study shows no sign of falling. Moreover, in the case of international students, accommodation represents a critical element of university marketing in a fiercely competitive space. 

The value-for-money of different accommodation arrangements has emerged as a key area of focus for both the National Union of Students and the Office for Students and, when they appear, the general election manifestoes are expected to include specific promises on student finance and maintenance support. Contemporary policy-focused conversations always benefit from being rooted in an understanding of how we got to where we are today.

Importantly, as today’s report makes clear, not all students live in accommodation built specifically for students. Indeed, a small but significant minority choose – or have – to live at home and commute each day to their institution.

Commuter students typically face additional challenges when seeking to integrate with the wider student community. So the new paper out today also builds on last year’s HEPI / UPP report on commuter students by recognising how the prevalence of the live-in model, which brings real advantages to so many, can have profound consequences for all students.

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