Professor Les Ebdon, Chair of leading university think-tank million+ and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, has called for more student housing partnerships between universities and private sector developers and investors.
Ebdon said: "There is a continuing need for new and refurbished student accommodation to be procured in a way that does not impinge on the universities balance sheet, with a new emphasis on procuring academic accommodation as part of these structures too."
Ebdon outlined the tightened fiscal constraints all universities are facing in the face of cuts of £1 billion (approx. 1.16 billion) on university budgets by Labour, and a further withdrawal of £2.8 billion by the Coalition which has cut tuition fees by 80%.
In spite of this or indeed because of this he argues that there has never been a better time for universities, who have not in the past been universally open to such approaches, to get more involved in student housing through partnerships with the private sector. "When the winds of change blow, universities need to invest in wind farms," he said.
He argues that although the tough economic climate may mean more students will be forced to live at home, the majority will need to move away to attend the University and course of their choice, or indeed where they can get a place. He added the increasing number of foreign students was a lucrative market for both universities and the private sector but the attractiveness of American universities was an ever present threat.
Ebdon was speaking at a student accommodation industry conference hosted by international law firm Pinsent Masons and Unipol Student Homes, which was held at the law firm's London headquarters. The conference had a strong turn out from senior representatives of the universities, leading providers of student housing, lenders and property advisers.
Pinsent Masons' Partner and Head of the firm's universities estates team Victoria Goddard said: "This was a particularly opportune moment to bring together the leading players in the student housing sector because with grant cuts, increased fees and changing demographics on the horizon there's never been a more pressing need to make sure that the residential estate plays its part in what will be an increasingly competitive HE environment".
Source: MJ2 Limited