Reflections on the End of the 2020-2021 Letting Year

The UK Student Accommodation Forum - Reflections on the End of the 2020-2021 Letting Year, and How are Student Residences Responding to the current “opening up” Guidance?

Wednesday 4th August 2021 11AM – 12PM

Guest Speakers: Martin Blakey (CEO, Unipol), Diane Kendrick, Simon Griffiths, Linh Hawke.

Martin Blakey, CEO, Unipol Student Homes - Sector Updates

  • Students stayed until ends of contracts at end of academic year, much higher level of occupancy right to the end. Nottingham running until end of July with undergrads at 35% occupancy vs a normal of 5%.
  • Accommodation Costs Survey 2021 has been launched this week.
  • Unipol Leeds House-Hunting behaviour survey published: 781 respondents, key findings were 29% of respondents had not signed a contract at the time of completing the survey. Of these, 36% are waiting to find out about teaching delivery []
  • Unipol are going to maintain one way systems, keep hand sanitisation, maintaining enhanced cleaning, keep some recommended occupancy on communal areas but not all, suggest and provide face masks, remove restrictions in lifts but have a lower maximum recommended occupancy, allow free use of gyms, keeping staggered arrival arrangements but over a shorter period, enhanced security for fresher’s period and maintaining arrangements for self isolation if cases spike post Fresher’s. This should be mitigated by double vaccinated students not being required to self isolate (from 16th August).
  • There are concerns over quarantining capacity for international students arriving including 25,000 students arriving from the red list. Currently India and Indonesia are on the red list. APPG for Students have identified the potential for this to overwhelm the quarantine system.
  • The scheme for Universities to require all students vaccinations have been disregarded.

Diane Kendrick, Student Life Manager, University of Hertfordshire

  • University of Hertfordshire has just under 5000 bed spaces. They have 2 campuses – only 86% on newer campus and 65% occupied on older campus and had to close 3 of the halls due to occupancy. Occupancy levels were at 67% and went down to 36% in January, increasing a little around exams. It was a quiet year in terms of occupancies but not incidents.
  • The impact of restrictions being lifted did not impact that much as many contracts had already ended, the impact when restrictions were put in place on student behaviour were significant.
  • Teaching will be a mixture but as much face to face as possible, with planning for any eventuality. Ongoing enhanced cleaning and testing will be continued. No outbreaks were recorded, down to a successful contract tracing system in-house.
  • The option of the University providing quarantine facilities for students arriving from red list countries was discussed but opposed due to significant logistical, reputational and financial implications.
  • They are reviewing isolation services including food delivery service and laundry and monitoring to ensure isolation.
  • They are planning for a normal start to term and welcome events, returning to individual kitchen meetings with support services and reopening common rooms.

Simon Griffiths, Sales Director, Unite Students

  • Rooms were let at 90% Company Occupancy – running at 58% physical occupancy post Easter. Unite delivered a rent rebate in 2019/20, a rental Discount 20/21 (take up to 44%) and a free four week extension 20/21 with mixed take up rate.
  • Student behaviour was really difficult and Unite were unable to enforce discipline like universities.
  • Applicant Survey 2021/22 findings that students are less socially confident, feeling less ready and well informed, wanting to make new friends, have different responses to stress, and prefer to use staff than other students. Almost all want a sense of belonging but majority are anxious about fitting in.
  • Student concerns survey identified that students are more concerned with climate change than any other issue in 2021, including Covid-19.
  • They will be continuing lateral flows, hand sanitising and increased cleaning.
  • Unite will focus on the welcome and sense of belonging, continuing the successful use of MyUnite App. Student welfare provision will be continued with ambassadors running face to face events.

Linh Hawke, Head of Commercial Operations at Optivo

  • Optivo will be taking a measured approach to the new way forward, including continuing their Covid promise outlining various options for tenancy release, asking students to commit to community pledge, taking a more cautious easing to business as usual, encouraging students to follow same safety procedures and keeping their current support package in place.
  • Their online Reslife offering will be similar this year, supported by smaller in person events but not returning to normal operations.
  • Challenges include managing safety precautions on site without government direction behind them.
  • Student wellbeing remains a challenge; the impact of the pandemic on mental health will outlast the pandemic itself.

Have any providers offered to provide a quarantine hotel service?

  • Joanne McManus - University of Stirling:  University of Stirling will be doing it and share all of the previous concerns. The intention is that students can provide a much better rounded experience if the university manages it. The same challenges regarding finance, correct staffing, and food have been identified. A challenge will be meeting students at the airport and bringing them directly to the building, so this will only available to students arriving at Edinburgh and Glasgow.