As with all sectors, one would assume that student housing would have been equally impacted by the pandemic. So did Unilodgers, a global student-housing marketplace. But, interestingly, it has witnessed an increase in the number of students on their platform. Its interpretation of this surge is that students are hopeful of being back in school by the fall cycle and that they are continuing to research online for accommodation needs close to their destination universities.
Parallelly looking at data from previous impacts on international student mobility such as SARS in 2003 and the economic downturn that followed the global financial crisis of 2007-08, a full recovery may take two to three years a downturn in year one, a rebound in year two, followed by continued growth in year three, the company infers.
Spread across the U.S., the U.K., and Australia, and not heavily reliant on international students seeking accommodation in these regions, Unilodgers is also catering to the transition of accommodation hunting onto the online space.
Vaibhav Verma, Founder and CEO, Unilodgers.com, shares more insights into the changing trends in student accommodation in the light of COVID-19. Excerpts from the interview:
How will this pandemic affect the demand for student housing?
The real-time unfolding of new information and policy responses make it impossible to reasonably forecast how much demand for student housing will get affected. The depreciating tuition fee and trends observed on the Unilodgers platform only indicate that the impetus for higher education is still holding strong.
The interesting part is that a potential cultural shift is likely to take place in which students are going to prefer hygienic, organised housing spaces, single-room occupancy over sharing with a roommate, and alternative housing nearby along with online visits instead of in-person visits while looking for options. The current situation is transforming buying behaviours of consumers across industries. The recovery forecast for 2021 is critically dependent on how we, as a planet, control the spread in the latter half of 2020.
What should students look for when assessing housing options in light of the pandemic?
Health and well-being are paramount. This has led many students to opt for housing options closest to their university campuses to avoid exposure to public transport, outside spaces and so on, just in case social distancing continues for the next few months. Next, students should stay on top of information from their respective colleges/universities to ensure they have the latest news on what steps are being planned and what support they have in place. Many of our supply partners have introduced relaxed policies factoring in the ambiguity of the immediate future, therefore students should also check out cancellation and refund rights while booking accommodation.
What are the top things students are looking for?
A significant percentage of Indian students are looking to live with other Indian students when going for higher education overseas. Next, single-occupancy rooms and studios are a preferred choice for students including Indians but not limited to. Since the academic year does not begin until fall, there havent been many significant trend changes that we have noticed that can be attributed to this pandemic.
What are some of the advantages of staying in accommodations like Unilodgers as compared to other options like on-campus or renting private houses?
All of our 1.5 million rooms are officially classified as purpose-built student housing and, to get this, an official accreditation is required from the local governments by virtue of meeting the highest standards of safety, cleanliness and quality. 95% of our buildings are located right next to the university campuses, so students can walk to their campus. All our rooms come with all-bills-inclusive prices, and students dont have to worry about paying various bills such as electricity, Wi-Fi, housing tax and so on. Neither do our students have to deal with landlords. All our buildings have socialising spaces, health and fitness services, study rooms, games area, and so on, which ensures that students don't have to necessarily go out of their building premises to get these things.