What does European PBSA investment mean for students across Europe?

Purpose Build Student Accommodation (PBSA) is a comparatively new concept in continental Europe. International students studying abroad will reach 7 million by 2020 bringing various expectations of what constitutes fast and reliable Wi-Fi to keep in touch with friends and family around the world.

UK student accommodation has seen record levels of investment with property developers providing Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) in every major city with great locations, hotel-type amenities and easy transport links to universities. The extra choice brings competition amongst accommodation operators. Competition on price, location, entertainment and particularly, Fast Wi-Fi.

European students raised on smartphones depend on technology. Almost all plan on attending university and a further 73% rank high speed internet as the most important feature of their accommodation. 91% of students use social media every day to keep in touch with friends and with mental health on the top of most universities’ pastoral agenda, it is crucial that these lines of communication are as reliable as possible.

Students travelling across the world to study and experience other cultures continue to drive demand for PBSA, and mainland Europe is an increasingly attractive proposition. PBSA provision remains very low, just 3% in Rome and Porto, and 4% in Florence, Lisbon and Seville. This is set to change.

The Student Hotel has a very strong presence in Europe. Having begun blazing a trail in the European PBSA market as early as 2006, they now offer their unique brand of multi-functional accommodation in 12 sites across 5 countries. The Student Hotel has always been about innovation and understanding the needs of their customers, offering flexible lease times, superb facilities and multi-purpose residences where parents can rent a hotel room in the same building as their child. So, it stands to reason that an operator with an eye on the future will offer exceptional student experience and super-fast, super-reliable Wi-Fi.

Historically, a large number of students in Europe have preferred to live at home whilst studying. A decision driven partly by personal preference and partly through a lack of investment in alternatives. Students in Germany generally choose to take a room in a house with other students – an option so popular it has its own name (Wohnungsgemeinschaft) and no wonder when there are nearly 2 million beds available across Germany. In Italy and Spain, students prefer to live at home whilst at university (82% and 84.4% respectively).

European universities are introducing English Taught Programmes (ETP). In 2007/8, there were only 500 such courses, compared to a huge rise to 6000 in 2017. This type of initiative will encourage the migration of students to study abroad particularly those studying languages and, certainly where the UK is concerned, offer a cheaper study alternative. PBSA will help to drive the popularity of overseas study by putting parents’ minds at ease with an authentic home-from-home experience with access to student support services close to university and a community of students experiencing a different culture together. Significant investment is required to raise the quality of European PBSA but, there is a significant opportunity for developers and investments to make a strong case for change.

Recent data from speedtest.net shows that standard fixed download speeds (from Feb 2019) in Germany sit at 68.22MBp, where there is a huge urban-rural divide. Healthier in Spain thanks to government initiatives (up from 61.02 Mbps in Q3-4 2017), with download speeds of 108.27. Italy is pitiful at 49.05Mbps. Only 74% of Italians are online, compared to a European average of 85% (Eurostat). It is clear that students travelling across Europe to study will have varying expectations for PBSA developers to consider so an experienced infrastructure partner will be crucial.

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