There is a growing body of evidence that the design of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) impacts both the student experience and student wellbeing. We also see building design/student experience issues explored in a growing number of industry blog posts. Across the PBSA sector, there are also debates around optimal building size, although these debates are less frequently connected to the student experience. However, Global Student Living (GSL) Index data highlights that there is a link between building size and the student experience and student wellbeing.

When it comes to the overall drivers of satisfaction, there are only slight differences of 1% or 2% between student ratings in different building sizes. For example, students living in large buildings with more than 600 beds rate value for money 2% lower than those living in small buildings (fewer than 300 beds), or mid-sized buildings (300-600 beds).

However, while there are no single big differences, students living in mid-sized buildings with 300-600 beds consistently rank most drivers of satisfaction at higher levels suggesting that this sized building provides a more optimal experience for students overall. Buildings that are mid-sized also seem to have certain advantages when it comes to the more human aspects of the accommodation experience, with students living in mid-sized buildings consistently rating student care and most aspects of management slightly higher.

Conversely, students living in larger buildings with more than 600 beds rank overall management worse across every measure, except for social activities, than those in small or mid-sized buildings. Students living in buildings with over 600 beds are more likely (19%) to say that their accommodation has a negative impact on their wellbeing than those in small or mid-sized buildings (15%).

According to GSL Index student ratings, smaller buildings perform slightly worse than larger ones in terms of various social aspects. For instance, students living in buildings with less than 300 beds are less likely to report having formed close friendships, enjoying socializing or feeling a strong sense of community.

While the GSL Index data points towards mid-sized buildings being preferable, the data highlights that there are some cohorts for whom larger buildings offer an advantage. One example is students from Nigeria, who are much more likely to report a strong sense of community in large buildings (64%) than in mid-sized (56%) or small buildings (52%). With fewer Nigerian students studying in the UK than other major international cohorts such as students from India and China, this appears to support the hypothesis that achieving a ‘critical mass’ for international students is important in terms of ensuring that there are ready-made social networks of students from their home country to draw on.