University College Dublin Favours Financial Returns over Student Bed Spaces

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University College Dublin has sparked controversy by announcing plans to convert 40 student beds into high-end corporate seminar rooms.

The university is understood to be spending EUR 2.5 million on the conversions, which will transform the student accommodation into seminar rooms and new office space for the UCD business school's professional diploma courses.

In total 40 out of the current 180 student bedrooms located on the business school's Blackrock campus are to be converted into seminar and breakout rooms. Lounge and dining facilities will also be provided to cater for those taking courses.

UCD Students' Union president Conor Viscardi said the work raised questions about the university's priorities when there is student accommodation crisis in south Dublin.

A spokesman for the university said the beds at Blackrock had come to the end of their life and the college's new policy was to consolidate future undergraduate student accommodation on the main Belfield campus.

The spokesman added there is a new 354-bed accommodation scheme scheduled on their main campus and an additional 3,000 on-campus rooms planned for Belfield. This will bring the total number of beds available to almost a quarter of the total student population.

The internal UCD documents, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information request, show the college believes the conversion to seminar rooms will provide a higher financial return for the college. The documents also reveal the university did not consider refurbishing the existing student bedrooms.

Falmouth Councillors Oppose Plans for Student Village

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Falmouth councillors have opposed plans to create a 2,000-bed student village between Treluswell and Treliever roundabouts.

Proposed by developers Ocean Reach, the development isn't linked to either Falmouth or Exeter University. Under the plans, Ocean Reach will build a mixture of town houses and flats, which would accommodate students from all years of study. The plans also include a budget hotel, a family pub/restaurant, sporting facilities and a park and ride.

Although the site is situated outside of Falmouth's boundary, it was deemed important enough and one which could have implications for the town, to enable its councillors to have a say.

The proposals were put forward to the town's council planning committee last week and after Penryn councillors objected to the scheme, Falmouth councillors followed suit.

In particular, concerns were raised over the potential for flooding in the area to increase if the green fields are built upon, as well as the loss in prime agricultural land and its views.

Commenting on the application, councillor Alan Jewell, said: "It is grade three a or b land, that land should be kept for food production at all costs unless all the brown field sites have been used up. It is the best and most versatile land and it would be a shame to lose that."

He added: "The universities have got permission on campus for 1,000 beds so if that is fulfilled they will not need this isolated village away from campus."

Falmouth's committee is recommending the plans are refused on the grounds of flood risks, loss of view from the highway, loss of high grade agricultural land and it is felt the application is not necessary.

Bournemouth University Vice-chancellor Under Fire for Pay Rise

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The vice-chancellor of Bournemouth University has come under fire for taking a 20% pay rise, while his staff received an increase of just 1%.

Professor John Vinney has drawn criticism for taking pay and benefits worth £305,000, according to a report by the University and College Union (UCU).

The increase in remuneration was the third largest individual pay rise in UK universities and follows previous criticism received in 2014 when the university awarded him a 19% pay rise.

Commenting on the pay rise, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "Staff and students at the University of Bournemouth might be surprised to learn that the vice-chancellor enjoyed an inflation-busting pay rise of 20% at a time when staff pay is being held down and student fees are set to rise.

"Unless government steps in, we believe some vice-chancellors will continue to spend public money and students' fees with impunity. The huge disparities in the levels of pay at the top expose the arbitrary and secretive nature of senior pay and perks in our universities."

In response Bournemouth University indicated that professor John Vinney's pay package is set by the university's independent remuneration committee and that his basic salary remains in line with the average salary when compared across the sector.

Sheppard Robson Awarded St Andrews Accommodation Project

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The University of St Andrews has appointed the Scottish architectural firm Sheppard Robson to design the next generation of student accommodation for the university.

The project is for designs related to the £62 million Albany Park development, which will be delivered by Campus Living Villages. It will also include the design of a new high-quality, modern conference facility as well as several additional complementary student facilities.

The campus will be constructed to a BREEAM 'excellent' standard and is expected to be completed by July 2020.

The student accommodation will consist of a mix of studio, and cluster flats with some equipped with en-suite facilities.

Albany Park is part of an ongoing programme by the University of St Andrews to build upon and improve its accommodation for its growing student population.

Commenting on the project, Adam McGhee, Parter at Sheppard Robson, said: "Sheppard Robson is delighted to be working with The University of St Andrews and Campus Living Villages to deliver this exciting project. This development will cement the University's status as a world-leading place of study and will support future growth by providing facilities that will be an attractive choice for students from around the world.

"The vision for the design from the outset will be to deliver high-quality student residential facilities that focus on the student experience together with providing first class support facilities for the students to enjoy."

Nearly a Third of University Academics Originate From Outside the UK

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Date released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency has revealed that nearly a third of university academics in the UK are from outside of the country.

Almost one in five university academics are from a country within the European Union, which has caused concerns for university leaders worried about retaining and recruiting staff.

Universities have warned they depend on be able to recruit highly-mobile international staff and students, with the latest figures from UCAS showing a decline in applications from the EU.

The data from HESA shows that 29% of academic staff are from outside the UK and in some cases, such as engineering and technology, non-UK academics account for 42% of staff.

In maths, physics and biology, 38% of staff are non-UK, with the majority of these coming from other EU countries, while the percentage of non-UK staff in the humanities was recorded at 35%.

When the education select committee took evidence from universities about the possible impact of Brexit, they heard concerns that talented and sought-after mathematicians from the EU could move elsewhere.

The University of Cambridge professor, Catherine Barnard, told MPs the university had seen a 14% decline in applications this year from EU students and raised concerns about a risk of perceived anti-immigrant sentiment.

Fast-Track University Courses Proposed by Government

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The government is to introduce fast-track university degrees with higher annual fees.

Under the plans, the two-year degrees will cost the same as a traditional three-year course, meaning annual fees will be higher.

Ministers are expected to put forward a bill to lift the current £9,000 cap on tuition fees so universities can charge higher annual rates associated with courses with a reduced length.

The Department for Education stressed the fast-track degrees will carry the same weight as the current undergraduate model.

Under the proposals, universities will be able to charge more than £13,000 a-year for those courses that are cut down to two years and will only apply to institutions in England. Annual fees for four-year courses being delivered in three years could rise to £12,000 a year.

The increased fees will be limited to those courses being accelerated and delivered in fewer years, with universities having to prove they're investing the same resources into the fast-track students.

Education ministers have suggested the reduced course time-frame will appeal to those looking to get into, or return to, the workplace or those looking to cut down on living and accommodation costs.

Those partaking in the new system will forgo the long summer and winter breaks in exchange for the shorter course duration.

The proposal to lift the cap on tuition fees for fast-track students is part of a range of changes set to be included into the higher education and research bill.

According to University minister Jo Johnson, the new bill will provide students with new and flexible ways of learning.

Commenting on the plans, he said: "Students are crying out for more flexible courses, modes of study which they can fit around work and life, shorter courses that enable them to get into and back into work more quickly and courses that equip them with the skills that the modern workplace needs."

Bennett Construction Wins Major Dublin Project

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Global Student Accommodation (GSA) has appointed Bennett Construction as the contractor for a 591-bed student accommodation scheme in Dublin.

Situated in Brunswick Street, Dublin, the development is expected to create around 650 new jobs during its construction. A further 75 full time jobs will be created once the site is fully operational.

The purpose-built student accommodation will be operated by GSA and will come equipped with study and leisure spaces along with a gm, games room and cinema.

The site will also include 3,700 square metres of retail space.

Construction is due for completion by the middle of 2018, with the first set of students occupying the site from autumn of that year.

Commenting on the development, Aaron Bailey, Head of Construction Europe for GSA, said: "We are delighted to be commencing work on the Brunswick Street site and look forward to welcoming the first students through the doors next year.

"We are committed to supporting jobs for the local community and worked with the Grangegorman Development Agency to ensure full compliance with the local employment charter."

GSA has already committed EUR 250m worth of investment into student accommodation in Dublin.

Unite Acquires Development Site in Manchester

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Unite Group has acquired a development site in Manchester, subject to planning permission.

Situated in Manchester city centre and close to the University of Manchester, once complete the development is expected to accommodate around 450 students.

The acquisition of the site is expected to cost around £41 million and deliver a development yield in line with the group's target level of 8.0-8.5%.

The development will be funded internally and is anticipated to be delivered in time for the 2020 academic year.

The acquisition by Unite takes their total development pipeline to around 7,500 beds and if given the go ahead, will increase Unite's Manchester portfolio to 2,800 beds.

Commenting on the acquisition Richard Simpson, Group Property Director, said: "This acquisition extends our high-quality development programme in a strong regional location where there is growing demand for purpose built student accommodation. Manchester is a thriving student city which we expect to continue to attract high numbers of students. We look forward to working with the local Universities to help meet the strong demand for high-quality student accommodation."

Durham Accommodation Snapped up by Tier One Capital

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Tier One Capital has acquired a Durham student accommodation scheme in a deal worth £2.3m.

Purchased on behalf of developers, the Newcastle based company is deploying cash it raised within its TOC Property Backed Lending Trust which was floated last month.

Upon its flotation at the end of January it raised £17.3m, with a large proportion of the funds to be put towards 10 initial projects.

The first is the acquisition of the 34-bed student accommodation scheme at St Hilds, Durham, for Ryka Developments.

A spokesman for Ryka Developments said: "The forthcoming expansion of the Durham University campus in the immediate vicinity of St Hilds adds further attraction to an asset capable of producing long-term income for the next twenty years and beyond."

Set up in 2012, Tier One Capital has developed into an investment company supporting private and corporate clients, charities and trusts with a range of services including cash management, investments, estate planning and corporate finance.

The company's growth has recently surged with the launch of its TOC Property Backed Lending Trust, which it hopes to grow into a £500 million fund, with the money raised to be invested into the region’s growing property market.

Unite Group Reports Increase in Earnings for 2016

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Unite Group has reported a 24% increase in EPRA earnings for the year ending December 2016.

The group reported a 24% rise in adjusted EPRA earnings to £61.3 million versus £49.5m reported a year earlier.

Profit before tax was reported at £201.4 million for the 12-month period, which includes property revaluations of £136.3 million. This represents a decline on the previous year where profit before tax was recorded at £388.4 million, with £324.6 million attributed to property revaluations.

As a result, EPS came in at 101.3p versus 164.2p in 2015 due to the lower level of revaluation surplus as a result of yield compression in 2015.

During the period the group maintained a portfolio of 49,000 beds at a value of £4.3 billion, an increase on the 46,000 beds it held at the end of 2015.

For 2017 Unite is expecting its rental growth to be in the region of 3.0-3.5%, supported by its relationships with universities and student number growth. However, this represents a compression on the 3.8% growth in rental income which it recorded for the 2016-17 academic year.

The group has maintained a positive outlook, with 75% of its bed spaces being reserved for the 2017-18 academic year, up from the 67% reported at the same time a year earlier. For the 2016-17 academic year occupancy rates stand at 98%.

Unite has increased the proportion of beds let to Universities with 58% or rooms now under nomination agreements, up by 5,000 beds over the past three years. It expects this to remain around this level in the future. The company also noted that rents on nominations are around 5% lower than their direct let equivalents but sees opportunities to close this discount in the coming years.

With a development portfolio of 7,000 beds, in addition to its expected rental growth, the group expects it could add 15-20p to earnings over the next few years.

Despite UCAS recently reporting a fall in the number of EU domiciled students applying to study at university for the 2017-18 academic year, as of the January 15 deadline, Unite does not expect Brexit to significantly impact student numbers and will continue to focus on its relationships with high to mid-ranked Universities.

Commenting on the results, Chief Executive of Unite Group, Richard Smith, said: "These are another excellent set of results that reflect the quality of our people, properties and service execution that sets us apart in our sector. Looking forward, we will maintain the quality of our portfolio through development and also strategic acquisitions such as our recent purchase of Aston Student Village, our first on-campus. Students and Universities remain our core focus and we will continue to invest in our operational capabilities, providing excellent service and ensuring consistently high satisfaction levels. This strategy, plus the ongoing strength of UK Higher Education, student numbers and the demand for beds means we are confident in further growth."