Collapsing industries, wide scale unemployment & supply chain disruptions – the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has had many far-reaching impacts. It is estimated that the closure of universities alone has disrupted the education of around 290 million students worldwide – forcing the niche student accommodation sector to take a big hit.
As of March 2020, more than 73,000 non-EU students had already applied in universities across the UK – the highest ever number for the first quarter. However, the countrywide lockdown and the subsequent closure of universities shook things up for the PBSA sector in the UK. The cycle of lockdowns and unlocks just adds to the uncertainty.
While the reopening of universities is bound to revive PBSA in the UK, it does not take away the fact that most industry players will be faced with many unforeseen challenges in times to come. Here are some key factors that will have a major impact on the industry in this year and the next.
1) Revamp your infrastructure to fit the needs of a brave new world
Traditionally, student accommodation in the UK has always been very robust in its structure – limited options, ordinary housing facilities and exceptionally high rents. However, the PBSA boom gave a completely new meaning to the idea of student accommodation.
These student-friendly sites, with their close-knit housing facilities and shared community areas, became an extension to the universities – allowing students from across the world to interact and form acquaintances.
The impacts of COVID-19 can be seen across industries, including PBSA. It is well known that social distancing and hygiene forms an integral part of the new normal and has become more important than ever before. As a result, it is now essential for PBSA providers to move away from the conventional offerings and rethink their infrastructural setups.
As students gear up to resume classes, the coming few months will see an increased demand for clean and safe spaces. At this stage, it becomes imperative for PBSA providers to have an infrastructure in place that supports optimum sanitation facilities, follows rigorous cleaning regimes and implements strict distancing measures.
2) Design virtual community spaces to help students overcome social isolation
Even though the new guidelines might prevent PBSA sites from opening up their community spaces, students opting for private accommodations will continue to see these places as social environments. In such a scenario, it becomes important for PBSA providers to identify the needs of these students and come up with innovative solutions to design safe community spaces.
Interestingly, some industry leaders have already started harnessing the power of technology to introduce virtual supper clubs, workout sessions and reading platforms for students.
3) Get ready to cater to the needs of a new wave of domestic applicants
According to a HESA report, non-UK domiciled students accounted for a mere 20.4% of the total undergraduate and postgraduate students in UK universities in 2018/19. If history is to go by, this figure will see a major change in the post-COVID world.
Upskilling has been identified as one of the most effective measures to deal with recession and economic distress. The UK currently has a very high number of teenagers approaching the eighteen mark. According to a report by Knight Frank, the country will have 135,000 potential college students over the next ten years. Interestingly, a significant chunk of these students are expected to enroll themselves in universities in the next couple of years as an immediate measure to tackle the economic upheaval.
On the other hand, it is expected that restrictions around international travel are here to stay and could lead to a direct impact in the number of foreign students enrolling themselves to study in the UK. As a result, most PBSA providers in the country will have to take in account this sudden change in student demographics. Remember, a change in customer demographics can also bring about a shift in the nature of services, strategies and even the brand identity itself.
4) Provide top-notch customer support to allay any fears and provide a good experience
In pre-COVID times, the relationship between PBSA and students was fairly simple – one party pays for a service while the other provides it. If experts are to be believed, this relation could see a drastic change in times to come. As students head back to universities amidst several ‘what ifs’, the need for flexibility is expected to rise. In order to meet these demands, PBSA providers will have to make tenancy agreements a lot more student-friendly – affordable, flexible and to an extent, customisable.
In addition, the influx of students back to these sites is also expected to bring about more queries and concerns than ever before. Hence, it becomes critical for PBSA players to invest in improving their support systems. Right from the on-ground housekeeping teams to desk support staff, businesses need to address all potential loopholes and act towards creating a seamless housing experience.
Need a helping hand: partner with QX to enable transformation
In the post-COVID world, the changing nature of the PBSA industry can bring about many new challenges, especially for the finance department. We, at QX, have been the industry leaders in providing world class Finance & Accounting solutions to PBSA management companies and owners for more than a decade now.
During our time in the industry, we have successfully managed accounting for more than 250 sites across the UK & US, covering more than 100,000 beds in the process. We are proud to be the F&A partners for four of the top ten PBSA companies in the UK and two of the top twenty companies in the USA.
Leveraging specialized property management accounting staff, industry standard software and optimised processes, we deliver insightful financial reports, reduce operation costs and help PBSA companies transform finance & accounting.
Contact us to find out how our services can benefit your business.