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Students’ accommodation experiences are far from uniform

  • 8 January 2020
  • By Vincenzo Raimo

This blog was kindly contributed by Vincenzo Raimo, Visiting Fellow at the University of Reading and Chief Relationship Officer at Unilodgers.

There have been a number of really interesting blog posts recently challenging us all to think about what a university experience in the UK might encompass and how it be can be very different across the nations in the UK, both between universities and between different higher education providers, as well as about the types of accommodation students live in during term time. Among the blogs is Holly Henderson’s ‘Student residence in England: A world unto itself’ and Jim Dickinson’s ‘What damage does residential higher education do?‘.

One of the difficulties in discussing university experience is the particular lens through which it is often viewed by a majority of university leaders and policy makers. That is of their own experience in ‘traditional’ halls of residence or colleges. The press now perpetuates this with stories of 18-year olds leaving home each September, heading for purpose-built student accommodation on university campuses or in private halls of residence springing up across our university towns and cities, as if that is every student’s experience. But the HESA data tells us something quite different. While around 22 per cent of students live in halls, either university provided (15 per cent) or private halls of residence (7 per cent), 38 per cent of students live at home – either in their parental home (17 per cent) or their own home (21 per cent). We must get away from the mistaken assumption that university life means living in a hall of residence or college and embrace the fact that different university experiences can be equally valid.

As you would expect, there are significant differences in patterns of term-time accommodation between home and international students and undergraduate and postgraduate students. While almost one in five undergraduates live in a university provided hall, just one in ten masters students do the same.

The majority of international students are clearly unable to live in a parental home if they are studying full-time at a UK higher education institution. Many more live in university or private halls, around 30 per cent compared to 19 per cent of home students.

What does all this tell us?

  • Students’ experience of accommodation varies greatly;
  • While many students live in university or private halls of residence, the majority of students do not, and live in a combination of private rented accommodation or at home;
  • Unsurprisingly, international students gravitate to university and private halls of residence and, as a percentage, are in greater numbers in those types;
  • Despite the very significant growth in private halls, it is still only a small minority of students who live in them, around 153,000 which is less than 8 per cent of all students; and
  • That higher education policy makers and university managers need a better understanding of today’s varied student experiences and, when developing how their programmes are delivered and supported, they need to take proper account of factors such as where their students live while studying.

Some of HEPI’s other recent work on student living arrangements include:

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