We know from our past research with prospective first-year students how important the accommodation offer is to their choice of university and expectations of their student experience with 74% agreeing that the accommodation offered by universities influenced their choice of institution and 49% agreeing that they would change their mind about studying at an institution if they did not like the accommodation on offer So, with the inevitable impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on student accommodation provision, it’s been a challenging month for university and private accommodation teams across the UK as many work 24/7 to try to balance student safety with meeting those student experience expectations.
There has been frequent media coverage on universities’ responses to coronavirus cases amongst their communities and many students have been put into local lockdown. This has resulted in a gravitated focus towards halls of residence and the care which universities are providing to their students.
Where positive Covid-19 cases have been detected, students have been confined to their accommodation blocks. With bans on social gatherings and the closure of accommodation bars and other shared facilities, including catering services, many students have reported being left feeling trapped, lonely and more reliant than ever on their accommodation support teams with one student describing her mental health as having ‘plummeted’ from being isolated in halls.
One of the immediate solutions offered by accommodation teams was the provision of ‘care packages’ to isolating students but the sudden rise in cases seems to have left many universities struggling to provide packages that meet their students’ needs. Reports emerged of meals being unhealthy, not adhering to students’ individual dietary requirements or simply not turning up at all.
The way communications have been handled has also been a big influencer of how students view the response of their accommodation provider: “I don’t know how much communication exactly is going on but from the group chat people are definitely confused and don’t feel like the information is clear enough.”
And, unsurprisingly, the question of value for money in regard to both the university and accommodation experience has been raised frequently “We’re essentially paying £9,000 to be in prison” said one student in accommodation isolation.
More positively, after listening closely and understanding the needs of their students in these conditions, new solutions are being adopted and improvements are starting to emerge in service provision, communication and wellbeing support.
Considerations are also being made about rebalancing value for money perceptions of the accommodation offer. Some universities, such as Edge Hill University, have reportedly opted not to charge students for food and toiletries regardless of being in catered or non-catered accommodation. And Manchester Metropolitan, who came under intense media scrutiny initially, have now announced a two-week rent rebate and a care package that includes a £50 grocery gift card for students placed in isolation.
The remainder of the academic term will no doubt continue to challenge the resilience and creativity of accommodation teams but listening to students, communicating effectively with them, learning from each other and working together to generate solutions are all ways in which the sector can, and will, mitigate the impact on both students and staff in the months ahead.
As part of Alterline’s insight services to university and private accommodation teams, we are offering the opportunity to understand the views and needs of students in these challenging times, providing the independent intelligence needed to help minimise the adverse impact on student mental health and wellbeing as well as focus on the accommodation service elements which are most important to the students. You can find details here about our Settling into Student Accommodation insight project, starting in November.
 Alterline ‘The future of student accommodation’ 2019 [https://alterline.co.uk/future-of-student-accommodation/]
 TheTab.com, ‘This is what it’s like being one of the thousands of students locked down in halls right now’ [https://thetab.com/uk/2020/09/29/this-is-what-its-like-being-one-of-the-thousands-of-students-locked-down-in-halls-right-now-176921]
 TheHeraldScotland.com, ‘Coronavirus outbreak concerns at Glasgow University accommodation’ [https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/18740032.coronavirus-outbreak-concerns-glasgow-university-accommodation/]
 EveningStandard.co.uk, ‘We’re paying £9,000 a year to be in prison, say students stuck in halls’ [https://www.standard.co.uk/news/education/students-stuck-halls-9000-prison-a4557891.html]
 BBC News ‘Student anger over ‘junk’ food parcels in lockdown’ – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54486269
 ManchesterEveningNews.co.uk ‘Two-week rent rebate for MMU students locked-down inside halls of residence after Covid-19 outbreak’ [https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/rent-rebate-lockdown-students-manchester-19014058]