Talking points: Why Europe’s student housing sector is on a learning curve

Europe’s rising student population will require more - and higher quality - housing in the coming years

January 12, 2022
  • Dana Salbak

Going to university is about more than just lectures: it’s the first opportunity to live independently, often away from hometowns, cities or home countries.

While COVID-19 may have impacted enrollments, demand for purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) in attractive European cities is expected to increase, according to JLL. Some 2.6 million more beds are currently needed in Europe’s main student centres to meet existing demand.

Increasing student numbers are set to push this figure even higher. The number of new international students in the Netherlands, Poland and Germany rose by 9.6%, 7.6% and 7.1%, respectively, year-on-year in 2020, according to the Institute of International Education.

However, many of the region’s destinations lack the kind of high-quality, professionally managed PBSA found, for example, in the UK.

While some of the rising demand will be met by traditional forms of shared housing, these options cannot provide the same level of amenities, support and proximity to universities offered by PBSA.

Against this backdrop, three themes are set to shape the future of PBSA in the coming months:
Wellbeing and community at the core

A growing base of students with higher expectations of their university experience is driving demand for quality and for inclusive spaces. While location, room size and specifications are key considerations, young people want to feel part of a community and forge new networks.

The range of amenities provided, from lounges and gyms to co-working and co-studying spaces, will become more relevant. Operators will need to recognize and respond to these needs through additional service provisions and collaborative design.

Accelerating digital integration

Giving students a truly successful experience will mean leveraging technologies. Engaging digitally native students is ever more critical, especially in the wake of the pandemic, and will distinguish PBSA from traditional house-share models.

Many lessons can be drawn from commercial real estate, where robust connectivity and digital solutions are improving productivity and functionality. The most competitive operators will be those who can evolve their products and expand their online footprint.


Current challenges, from high construction costs and land scarcity to limited stock, are growing.

In the short term, with a shortage of quality PBSA across the continent, investors will need to partner with developers to build scale rapidly. Deeper collaboration between private sector operators, investors and developers will be needed.

Expect to see more joint ventures and partnerships that ensure specialist operators manage and lease the space. And in the long term, as student bases expand, there’s a chance for more collaboration between universities and investors to provide an all-inclusive service education experience. 

As European study destinations continue to grow, providing quality PBSA to support the student experience and drive performance is becoming a more critical success component.

While many institutions and schools may lack the financing and expertise to develop quality housing themselves, partnering with private sector operators and investors to provide innovative student housing models will become more commonplace.