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Sustainability, wellbeing and students’ evolving expectations of PBSAs

Wellbeing and sustainability are increasingly at the forefront of international students’ minds, but what impact do these values have on their choice when it comes to finding student accommodation, and what are providers doing to meet these modern needs?

Some 61% of students said climate change has a significant impact on their lives today. Photo: Unsplash

Provider Unite Students aspire to be net zero carbon by 2030 in both development and operation

“Supporting students beyond a comfortable bed is a vital part of making their university or college experience a successful one,” Rui Barros, global chief executive officer, at student housing provider Yugo, tells The PIE.

It’s “critical” for accommodation providers get the basics rights, says Barros, but the same could be said for wellbeing and sustainability services.

“It’s fair to say that [students] do expect them to be part of their overall student accommodation package,” he adds.

At a time when study destinations are facing huge issues around accommodation shortages, sustainability and wellbeing are both newer services international students have come to expect from accommodation providers, Darren Gardner, CEO of Nido, agrees.

“This is a value add. It’s not a huge cost. Anyone who’s going to hike up the price because they’re providing wellbeing and sustainability services, I don’t think that’s right thing to do.”

Nido looks after more than 5,000 student homes in six markets and for Gardner, a real turning point was realising the importance of outsourcing professional wellbeing services for students, rather than trying to play multiple roles as an accommodation provider.

This realisation lead to the accommodation provider launching a partnership with counselling psychologist, Tara Quinn-Cirillo.

“I felt it was much more constructive for us to be able to provide support to our students from that scientific clinical background,” Gardner continues.

“In your university years, you probably very rarely remember your physics lesson, but you remember where you live, where you stayed, the friendships, the trouble you got into, the fun you had.

“I just want to make sure that to the best of our ability, we do the right thing, because we deal with incredibly difficult things outside of the fun stuff.”

Students can access the provider’s wellbeing hub consisting of information, advice, podcasts and live-streams created by Quinn-Cirillo, or Dr Tara as she is known to students.

Weekly virtual and in-person events, including exercise classes and wellbeing events, are run throughout the year with content that aims to involve and appeal to the whole student community in a residence. Topics covered include how to make friends, living independently and managing finances, among others.

The feedback from students has been positive, says Gardner, although when it comes to uptake, he definitely notices an “East/West divide” with students from Western countries such as the UK and US being more willing to come forward when they are having issues with mental health and wellbeing than their Eastern counterparts.

According to the 2022 Student Minds report, which surveyed students enrolled in UK higher education, fewer international students self-reported mental health issues than domicile students.

Despite this, at the beginning of the academic year, international students signalled they felt a heightened sense of anxiety on a range of issues – community, relationships, belonging – when compared to UK-domiciled students.

Barros tells The PIE that Yugo prioritises the mental health and overall wellbeing of its students by creating a caring and compassionate environment through its Live Your Best Life Program.

“We developed [the] program to underpin the student experience,” says Barros, explaining the approach, based on three pillars: YugoEco, to build a better future and environment for students; YuPro, to empower young people beyond university life; and YuGrow, to provide space for students to grow and explore new possibilities.

Through this initiative, students have access to a number of support networks and group sessions to improve their holistic living. At each Yugo residence, several events per month are organised ranging from cooking classes to clothes swaps.

Additional events targeted at international students to ensure they feel comfortable on arrival – for example orientation days, getting to know the city, opportunities to celebrate a variety of different cultures and food.

According to a 2022 survey by Yugo, 61% of students report climate change is having a significant impact on their lives today.

“The highly conscious student market has made it a mandate to make significant changes to properties”

“Our students have told us there is a need for the world to change and that they expect so much more – we have worked with them to create a brand that meets their needs,” says Barros.

In line with the provider’s commitment to the environment, The Yugo Movement was launched.

“This innovative and dynamic initiative is dedicated to addressing the urgent challenges of climate change. The Yugo Movement focuses on sustainability, education, and empowerment, making remarkable strides in inspiring and mobilising students to take meaningful action towards building a more sustainable future,” explains Barros.

Gardner tells The PIE that student sentiment for sustainability has evolved rapidly in a short time. It’s “encouraging” how many students get involved in the recycling program when leaving their accommodation, by helping to segment their trash accordingly, he adds.

“Five years ago when I went to do student check-out and there would be 10 huge wheelie bins just full of everything. It just astounded me. I was literally shocked that people would just throw this stuff away.”

Student accommodation booking platform, Amber analysed the filters students applied when searching for accommodation on their website and the results showed a great inclination toward sustainability.

According to Amber, students searched for ‘sustainability’ a whopping 41,578 times. Meanwhile, ‘waste management’ was searched for 628 times and ‘sustainable features’ 261 times.

“In the initial days, sustainability was far below the checklist that property management groups would have to care for while building their properties on enhancing their curb appeal,” stated Amber.

“But presently, the highly conscious student market has made it a mandate for property management groups to raise their awareness and make significant changes to their properties if they wish to sustain their sustainability-conscious band of clients!”

Barros tells The PIE that in order to enhance the environmental performance of its portfolio, Yugo conducts sustainability audits, evaluating climate risk, energy, consumption and readiness for sustainability certifications such as BREEAM and Green Star.

“In addition, we diligently evaluate our entire portfolio for areas of improvement,” he adds, detailing that the provider is pursuing Fitwel certification, which seeks to support the wellbeing of occupants.

Unite Students’ Bromley Place building in Nottingham will provide 271 beds. Photo: Unite Students

This week it was announced student accommodation provider, Unite Students, has started building one of its greenest ever purpose-built student accommodation properties.

The £34 million development, in the UK’s Nottingham, will have the lowest embodied carbon of any development in the company’s current and recent pipeline. It will also be the company’s first new-build development aimed exclusively at postgraduate students. 

Tom Brewerton, group development director at Unite Students, said the project is a step towards meeting its aspirations of becoming net zero carbon by 2030 in both development and operation.

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