Students and technology. From virtual seminars and live-streamed lectures to uploading multimedia projects and using collaborative platforms, it’s no surprise that strong tech connectivity is crucial to post-Covid student living. However, it’s a different form of technology that’s radically changing how the purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) world operates: PropTech.
Step 1: Attracting students
With a net increase of 21,000 beds entering the UK PBSA market for the 2020/21 academic year, PBSA operators can use their technology offering as a differentiator in a number of ways.
For example, an Octopus Real Estate report found that first year students achieving top grades are more than twice as likely to prioritise technology when making accommodation decisions (19%) than those achieving lower grades (9%). Something to bear in mind when it comes to marketing.
Meanwhile, with the uncertainty regarding how universities will teach courses over the next few years, operators can also use PropTech to offer flexible rental terms. For instance, potential occupants could take up variable lease durations at sliding price scales instead of an annual commitment; an attractive proposition given the variety of different course lengths and hybrid lecture formats that could emerge.
Step 2: Providing excellent service
Attracting students’ attention is just the first part of the exam. To get full marks, operators also have to provide excellent service.
Accommodation amenities have long been used as a differentiator - think gyms and games rooms, launderettes and libraries, bars and basketball courts - but the pandemic has shifted the goal posts. Now, there’s not only an expectation of quality amenities that fit Gen Z trends, such as rooms dedicated to wellness activities and vlogging equipment, but also a need to use these spaces in a safe, sustainable and seamless way. The ability to book a slot in the gym on the way back from campus. The option to use an app to arrange laundry pick-up or reserve the cinema room. The capacity to organise clubs and social activities via a central hub.
In other words, quality amenities boil down to the technology powering them. Or, as Craig Bryant, Strategy and Business Development Director at This is Fresh, put it during a recent urban living webinar on student accommodation: “people booking those amenity spaces, people putting on events, food delivery, parcel tracking, parcel delivery. All those things simply wouldn’t have been possible without technology.”
Step 3: Managing efficiently
In addition, Craig noted that the use of automated systems “has made the property management side of things much more efficient” by saving time, cutting costs and also covering wider student concerns such as data protection.
Operationally, students can flag and track repair requests with the touch of a button. Whole corridors can be informed of cleaning rotas and maintenance issues. Operators can communicate directly with all building occupants on upcoming fire drills and security updates. With services like remote check-in, flexible app-based rent payments and online contract signing freeing up admin time, operators can also focus on delivering great resident experience.
What’s more, PropTech provides operators with specific up-to-the-minute data on a wide range of metrics, such as demand for amenities, occupancy and payments arrears, which can be easily delivered to owners on a timely basis.
Time to go for a PMS
You don’t need to have a PhD to work out that what’s popular among the student generation should be a key part of an operator’s arsenal, especially as streamlined tech helps improve management efficiency at the same time. So, as students prepare for the return of the academic year in September, so should PBSA operators by choosing a PMS that helps them graduate first in the class.