How are prospective students’ views on university accommodation changing?
  • May 25, 2021

How are prospective students’ views on university accommodation changing?

by Ellie Wall. Marketing Intern, Alterline.

With the current COVID restrictions resulting in fewer nights out and more nights in, making the right decision about where to live whilst at university is now more important than ever. We know from previous Alterline research that 74% of prospective students say the accommodation offered by a university would influence their choice of institution and that over a fifth of prospective students cite accommodation as one of the three key aspects of university life they would like to know about on applicant and offer holder days.[1]

Accommodation is a vital part of providing students with the full university experience and the majority of 16-18-year-olds are still telling us they are planning to live away from home post-pandemic. But what do we know about which factors are rising in importance in the decision-making stakes?

With online open days now being the norm, the visual appeal of the accommodation offer has inevitably risen in priority. Great aesthetics combine with perceived quality and spaciousness of accommodation as prospective students appear to seek both style and substance in their accommodation choices.  Some universities are acting upon this and two former halls of residence, one Grade II listed and one boasting nearly 10-acres, at the University of Hull are set to be sold. The shift from traditional to trendy being cited as reflecting the current student demand for ‘premium, high-quality, on-campus accommodation’.[2]

Prospective students are also more concerned about the cost of university this year than last year, with 58% now worried about it.[3] Strikes by students in Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield last month demanding refunds for accommodation has further highlighted the extent of this burden for young people.[4] Cardiff Metropolitan University are amongst those institutions who’ve taken the decision to offer students in university-operated halls of residence a rent rebate for when their courses are taught completely online.[5] Good communication and clear, flexible terms and conditions are inevitably going to play their part in reassuring students about the value for money aspect of their  accommodation decisions in future  years.

Accommodation providers nationwide are also increasingly aware of the effects on student mental health of moving into university halls; Alterline’s research shows that 69% of prospective students for 2021/22 are currently concerned about their mental health and wellbeing.[6] Before moving in to halls of residence, many students have ‘high expectations’ that can be quickly deflated by the reality of ‘isolation and loneliness’[7] and we’re all aware that this situation has been exacerbated over the past year. The potential dichotomy between the possible loneliness of university accommodation and enjoying the full ‘university experience’ involved in moving away, is one which students will particularly want and need support with as they make their move into their new accommodation this year.

It is clear that an array of factors, from practical to sensitive, are potentially affecting accommodation decision making for prospective students. Our new collaborative insight project, starting in June, will provide both quantitative and qualitative evidence on the topic, allowing university accommodation teams to tailor their options and marketing with students at the centre of their thinking. Find out more about the new project and how to join here.

[1] Alterline, Student Accommodation Decision-Making 2019 Public Summary P4 ‘Intelligence to Support UG recruitment 2021/22 – Wave 3’, February/March 2021, p. 77

[2] BBC News, ‘University of Hull to sell former accommodation blocks’, 26th April

[3] Alterline, ‘Intelligence to Support UG recruitment 2021/22 – Wave 3’, February/March 2021, p. 16

[4] Rent strike students occupy university buildings ‘until demands are met’, LBC, 23rd April 2021

[5] Cardiff Metropolitan University

[6] Alterline, ‘Intelligence to Support UG recruitment 2021/22 – Wave 3’, February/March 2021, p. 13

[7] Mattha Busby, ‘’My mental health had never been worse’: loneliness of the UK’s isolating students’, The Guardian, 22nd October 2020