Cambridge Council Undertakes Extensive Student Housing Study

Posted by Richard Ward in , , ,

A comprehensive study commissioned by Cambridge City Council has shed light on student accommodation in the city.

The study will be used by the council and its partners to guide future student accommodation developments.

The report shows that in 2015-16, there were an estimated 46,132 students in Cambridge with a need for some form of student housing.

It also found that the University of Cambridge accommodated a high proportion of its students in university owned accommodation, while Anglia Ruskin University and other institutions had very little directly-owned accommodation. As a result, students at these institutions were more likely to stay in privately owned halls, shared housing or the parental home.

The assessment found the current strategy for student accommodation, which is laid out in the emerging Local Plan, is largely appropriate, but could be tweaked to strengthen the commitment to addressing the need for market and social housing, as well as student accommodation.

As a result of the study, the council is looking to make some changes to the Local Plan, to ensure that all student accommodation developments are directly linked to a particular educational institution, which has specific student housing needs.

The report also suggested the formation of a working group, consisting of council officers and representatives of higher education institutions, in order to effectively monitor student accommodation.

Councillor Kevin Blencowe, said of the report: "We recognise that there has been an increasing number of planning applications for student accommodation in Cambridge in recent years. The aim of this study was to provide us with greater understanding of student accommodation supply and demand in the city.

"This study means we have a clearer picture of student accommodation needs both now and in the future, which will help us plan how best to accommodate our student population, who are an important part of life in the city."

Mr Blencowe is to recommend the proposed modifications to the emerging Local Plan are considered by the Development Plan Scrutiny Sub Committee on 25 January.

SNP Encourage Feedback on Number of Glasgow Developments

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The public is being asked to comment on the amount of student housing being built in Glasgow.

SNP MSP Sandra White is to hold a public meeting to gather feedback and opinion on the growing number of student developments in the city centre and the West End.

According to Ms White, the city is being swamped with student accommodation. However, Glasgow City Council say students form 13% of the city's population, making a great contribution to the city's economy and that the rising number of developments reflect their growing numbers.

Among the developments planned is a 100-bed scheme on the site of a former playground at Kelvinhaugh Primary in Gilbert Street. A proposed scheme in the Trongate area has also been submitted and calls for the construction of 586 student rooms, representing one of the city's largest housing developments ever.

Commenting on the applications Sandra White said: "Every single piece of spare land in the West End and the city centre is being taken up by student accommodation.
What do we want Glasgow to turn into? Do we want Glasgow to end up like St Andrews, which is like a ghost town at the end of semesters?

"These are profiting businesses. They don't pay community tax or council tax. It's about time we actually looked closely at Glasgow City Council plans."

The MSP suggested instead that the city should be trying to bring families into the city centre, creating more social housing. Ms White hopes to finalise plans to hold a public meeting in the next few days.

Newcastle Councillors to Vote on Tighter Building Controls

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Councillors in Newcastle have been urged to approve a plan which aims to bring greater control over the number of student flats being built in the city.

At the same time, Newcastle City Council's planning committee are assessing a pair of new student accommodation blocks, which if approved would lead to a further 451 student bedrooms being built across Ouseburn and the city centre.

After six weeks of consultation with businesses, experts and residents, the council's cabinet will decide this week on whether to amend its 'Maintaining Sustainable Communities' policy which councillors argue will protect the city centre from excessive purpose-built student accommodation.

If the plans go ahead, developers will need to demonstrate their conversion or new build won't lead to an over-concentration of such developments that "could be harmful to the area's vibrancy, environmental quality and residential amenity".

The design and quality of the buildings will also be more stringently checked. In particular, purpose-built student accommodation will need to show it could be suitable for conversion into more traditional homes, to prevent the city being lumbered with empty buildings should demand for student housing change.

The council adopted a similar policy in 2011, introducing new rules to limit the number of homes in areas like Jesmond being converted to flats aimed at students.

Subsequently a boom in purpose-built accommodation close to the city centre has resulted in 9,500 new beds being created since 2007, with planning permission for more than 5,000 additional beds.

The updated policy still aims to protect areas where family homes could be built, with greater controls on the creation of large student blocks.

Ged Bell, cabinet member for investment and development said of the proposals: "Clearly now is the time to update our policies, and it's vitally important we are able to provide the right type of accommodation to suit the needs of all the communities we serve, to make sure Newcastle is an attractive place to study, live and work."

Tighter Visa Rules Could Cost the Uk £2bn a Year

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According to forecasts produced by the Higher Education Policy Institute, a tougher stance by the Home Office towards overseas students studying at UK universities could cost the country up to £2bn a year.

The report also found that UK higher education could increase revenue from higher fees for foreign students after Britain leaves the EU, but the potential gains would be wiped out if the government insists on tightening student visa numbers.

Commenting on the report, director of Hepi, Nick Hillman said: "Were the Home Office to conduct yet another crackdown on international students, then the UK could lose out on £2bn a year just when we need to show we are open for business like never before."

Mr Hillman suggested an easy and costless solution would be to remove international students from the net migration target, which would also signal a change in direction.

The study examined what the impact could be if further efforts were made to restrict student visas as part of the government's larger strategy to force down immigration. It found that approximately 20,000 students could be deterred, and although universities would lose around £500m a year in fees, the wider UK economy could lose a further £600m a year in reduced spending.

However, the largest loss would be over £900m a year foregone in what the report described as "the detrimental impact on universities' supply chains" through lost spending and the "indirect and induced effects" on the UK economy related to this source of export income.

Deputy chief executive of Universities UK, Alistair Jarvis, said the report provides a "stark" warning of the possible economic loss associated with policies that restrict European or international student numbers. He argued that if universities are to continue to boost the economy and benefit communities, they will need the right support from government.

Private University Expansion Plans Criticised

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A report into government plans to expand private providers in the UK's university sector have been labelled as a risk too far.

Produced by the Higher Education Policy Institute, the study highlighted that the cost of student finance for these alternative providers quadrupled in four years to £382m.

The document also warned against a high-speed process of allowing new providers to award their own degrees, however the Department for Education suggested the proposals would provide students with greater choice.

Robin Middlehurst, co-author of the report, referred to the United States, suggesting their "overly generous rules for alternative providers are a magnet for questionable business practices".

In particular, the study raised concerns about the rapid expansion in for-profit higher education colleges in the US, raising concerns about recruitment tactics, dropout rates and access to student finance support.

The Higher Education and Research Bill, which is currently before parliament, outlines a combined system for regulating traditional universities and alternative providers with the aim of encouraging a wider market for students. However, it's argued that more than two-thirds of alternative providers could still remain outside of regulations.

Currently there are more than 700 alternative providers, with nearly 300,000 students enrolled. Over 120 of these providers run courses eligible for student finance, which has seen the cost of tuition fee and maintenance loans in this sector increasing from £94m to £382m between 2010-11 and 2014-15.

Tough times ahead for UK PBSA sector

Posted by Tom Walker in , ,

The Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) sector in the UK has experienced a huge growth in popularity over the last few years, with all manner of financial institutions - ranging from sovereign wealth funds and pension & insurance firms to banks and Family Offices - investing in the asset class with hopes of realising a reliable return on investment that out performs most other asset classes.

However, with £5.9bn poured into the sector in 2015 and a forecast £4bn in 2016, there are fears that the UK's PBSA sector faces a tough decade ahead. A report by EY, a consultancy firm, predicts that demand for such accommodation will falter over the mid-term thanks to a dip in the demographic profile of UK 18 and 19 year olds, a growth in apprenticeship programmes and possible restrictions on international student visas.

The analysis, which predicts domestic demand for PBSA accommodation hitting a low in '21/'22, estimates that the international student acceptance rate to UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) would need to increase 63% on current levels to plug the deficit - unlikely given the current Government's immigration policy direction.

The outcome of this gloomy mid-term outlook is that developers and investors of PBSA will need to more critically appraise the current and forecast supply and demand dynamics for such developments on a city-by-city basis. Lower-tier universities will likely take the brunt of the forecast demand-crunch as reputable HEIs (such as those in the Russell Group) remain cushioned by undergraduates' desires for reputable degrees and future employability.

Even so, cities hosting top-tier universities will become more sought-after by investors and bids for suitable development plots will likely be driven higher as a consequence. As for existing accommodation assets in cities already exhibiting structural oversupply, competition for prospective tenants will naturally exert a downward pressure on pricing as owners of the assets look to maximise occupancy rates. In both cases, the outcome will likely result in a compression in income returns.

That said, for those investors willing to stick by their investments long-term, the report estimates a recovery in demand by the '24/'25 academic cycle, all else being equal.

Imperial College President warning on academic visas

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The President of Imperial College London, Professor Alice Gast, has raised concerns that the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit has resulted in academics wasting brain-power worrying about visas rather than focussing on research. Prof Gast - a chemical engineer and former President of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, USA - stated in an interview with the FT that the lack of clarity around the Government's post-Brexit immigration policy, along side home secretary Amber Rudd's suggested clamp-down on international student visas, was "dangerous for science".

This sentiment is in line with a recent report from the House of Lords, in which the Lords Science and Technology Committee stresses the importance of freedom of movement and a need to ensure that the UK continues to attract the best scientific talent; the report recommends that the Government recognise the distinction between students and other immigrants and treat student numbers separately when implementing immigration policy.

On the topic of research funding, Professor Gast highlighted the collaborative work that Imperial has already undertaken with other research institutions in Europe, the US and China through a series of seed funds. The London-based university currently receives 14% of its research funding (£52m per year) from the EU, and whilst the UK Treasury has agreed to fund research projects that have already won grants from the EU's Horizon 2020 programme - a multi-billion pound science and innovation pot - Gast's remarks allude to a contingency plan that is being developed by the university to hedge against the threat of future R&D underinvestment by a post-Brexit Government.

Government Criticised for Failing to Communicate Change in Tuition Fees

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The Government has been criticised for not announcing changes to tuition fees on the Department for Education's website.

The legislation that will allow universities to increase tuition fees in England to £9,250 is expected to impact more than 500,000 students beginning their courses in the Autumn.

The changes to the fees were officially placed onto a government website last week but were not announced by the Department for Education. Opposition parties have called the move "shabby", arguing the move was designed to avoid scrutiny, something the Department for Education has rejected.

The regulations relating to the change in fees were published on December 15th on, the same day school league tables were released.

According to Labour's Gordon Marsden, the government was trying to maintain a low profile in regards to the increase in fees.

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: "This is a shabby little way to announce something, hiding it away in the far-flung corner of a government website.

"This shows the government at their worst, avoiding scrutiny and debate."

The intention to increase tuition fees had been announced in the summer and will enable nearly all universities to apply the higher amount of £9,250 per year. Institutions also have the option to apply the increased fees to existing students.

Defending the increases, Universities have argued that the value of tuition fees have been eroded by inflation and they needed an increase to remain financial sustainable.

Cambridge Reports 17% Decline in EU Applications Post Brexit

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Worrying reports from Cambridge University suggest they could face significant risks from Britain's decision to leave the EU, with a significant reduction in the number of EU student enrolments expected.

The university has written a submission to MPs on the education select committee suggesting that it expects annual admission numbers for EU under and postgraduates to fall by two thirds, from 1,100 to below 400.

In particular, the university said: "Assuming that EU students move to the unregulated international rate, it is almost certain that application numbers will fall further. We are currently modelling a two-third reduction in admissions from the non-UK EU."

According to Neil Carmichael, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, the written submission highlights the degree of concern facing universities regarding the fate of institutions post-Brexit.

Cambridge is one of the first to reveal a drop in EU applications as its deadline closes well ahead of most other universities. The world renown university reported a decline in applications from the EU of 17%, representing the first solid evidence of a Brexit effect on student numbers.

There is also concern among the Russell Group universities that fewer EU students would not necessarily mean more places for UK nationals. The group said: "If the numbers of EU undergraduate and postgraduate students were to decrease as a result of the UK's withdrawal from the EU, it is not necessarily the case that they could be replaced easily by UK nationals.

Feedback from our members shows that some prospective staff are now changing their minds about continuing with job applications or accepting work contracts because of the Brexit vote."

Despite the concerns raised, Universities UK has suggested higher education could still thrive despite Brexit given the right support and investment from government.

Government Insists There Is No Cap on International Student Numbers

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According to higher education spokesman Viscount Younger of Leckie, there is no intention on limiting the number of foreign students attending UK universities and as a result there is no cap on the number of genuine international students coming to the UK to study.

Lord Younger added that the administration wanted the country's leading institutions to continue to attract the best talent.

The comment was made to clear up the potential area of confusion during the second reading debate in the House of Lords on the Higher Education and Research Bill, during which several peers raised their concerns over the inclusion of students within government's targets to cut immigration.

Members in the Lords also called for international students to be separated from the Office for National Statistics net migration figures.

The exclusion of international students from immigration figures is backed by both Boris Johnson and Chancellor Philip Hammond.

Commenting on the matter Lord Younger said: "We understand and value very much the contribution that international students, staff and researchers make to our HE sector.

"Let me be clear on another potential area of confusion. There is no cap on how many genuine international students can come to study here and we have no intention of limiting how many genuine students can come here to study.

"We want our top universities to continue to attract the best students."