The brand new Eclipse building in Cardiff offers students an on-site nightclub, private cinema, dinner party function room complete with chandeliers, fitness suite, 24/7 concierge, games room, courtyard with ping-pong tables and, last but not least, dedicated study rooms.
That’s because only students live here. It is a prime example of the sort of luxury student accommodation springing up all over the country. The building’s management company, Collegiate AC, describes the property as a place where “lucky residents see their lives enhanced by a stylish, ultimate living experience”. That “enhancement” has a price tag, not all Cardiff students will be able to afford: up to £1,222 a month (£14,664 a year) to rent a one-bed flat.
The amount of luxury private accommodation on offer to students has grown rapidly in recent years, with the rents charged for purpose-built student accommodation increasing by 80% over the past 10 years, the latest research from the National Union of Students (NUS) shows. The union believes a twentyfold increase in the number of studio apartments available for students to rent privately lies at the heart of this trend, with the average weekly cost of this sort of accommodation hitting £193.76 in 2016, compared with £106.63 for a bedroom in a private house.
Yet some students are prepared to pay. Those who rent a “superior studio”, consisting of an en-suite bedroom with a study area and kitchen, at the London Liberty Plaza, pay at least £380 a week, 51 weeks of the year – more than £19,000 annually. The developers say every studio in the building, near the London School of Economics and King’s College London, was sold out a month before the start of the 2017-18 academic year.
It was the same in Manchester and Bristol, where Liberty charges £296 and £266 a week respectively for luxury studio flats. “Our superior rooms offer premium space and great views across the city with individual amenities, meaning no fridge-fighting, no arguments over cleaning, plus your own space to relax,” a spokesperson says.
Simon Thompson, director of the student accommodation portal AccommodationForStudents.com, thinks the demand for luxury student accommodation is being fuelled by peer pressure and students’ complacency about leaving university with a large debt. “Taking on a high level of debt is now part and parcel of going to university, and students are not frightened of carrying extra debt to get better quality accommodation,” he says. “They see other students living somewhere nicer … and they want to live there, too. They will also put pressure their parents to contribute.”
Lawrence Bowles, a researcher for Savills, says demand for luxury student accommodation also comes from parents. “It’s the parents who typically pay the rent. They want their children to live in a secure and supportive environment that is stress-free and optimised for student life. Particularly if they live overseas, they find it reassuring to send their child to live in a building run by a reputable management company, where there is a 24/7 concierge, high-speed internet … and space to work in their bedroom.”
Typically these companies invest more effort in maintaining and furnishing their student lets than do traditional landlords. In a 2014 NUS survey, more than three-quarters of students had experienced at least one problem with their property, with almost a quarter (24%) reporting slugs, mice or another infestation in their home.
Students who can afford to live in stress-free, luxury accommodation, which includes a quiet place to study, could enjoy an academic and psychological advantage over their peers, research suggests. In its annual report on student academic experiences, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) found a link between students’ perceptions of their well-being and their ability to learn. Those scoring highly for life satisfaction and happiness were likely to feel they had learned more from their course.
“Worrying about things like accommodation is a major stress and distraction for students, while our research has shown that good wellbeing leads to more exam success, a happier student experience and a perception that the university is better value for money,” says Dr. Diana Beech, HEPI director of policy and advocacy. She would like to see universities invest more in housing support services. “It would be nice to see dedicated support officers within universities who can help students with problem landlords, visit them in their homes, write letters of support and help students to find alternative accommodation within their means.”
Lack of such support can drive some students towards luxury accommodation, she says. “I would like to see more diversity in the housing market for students – going basically shouldn’t mean going substandard.”
Bowles agrees: “The way forward is for developers to build affordably priced accommodation with high-quality service levels but less focus on luxury amenities. That will also mean former student housing can be converted back into family homes for local families.”
A Cardiff University spokesperson said: “We’re certainly aware of an increase in the provision of private accommodation for students in Cardiff – some marketed as luxury accommodation – but we’re not aware of this causing any significant issues for students.