Accommodation has never been more important to students when making their decision of where to study, according to the latest figures from the Global Student Living Index (GSL Index) Autumn Wave, highlighting that the reputation of accommodation, the student experience and the work of accommodation teams to create thriving student communities has never been more important.

The number of responses to this wave of the GSL Index exceeded those of last Autumn by almost 10,000, making this the largest ever ‘entry’ wave of the Index with more than 40,000 responses.

Other highlights from the Autumn 2023 wave include:

  • The satisfaction gap between private halls and university halls has closed! This wave, a drop in overall satisfaction for private halls while university halls satisfaction remained consistent means that satisfaction levels are now the same at 79%. This is very significant – university and private hall satisfaction levels have not been the same since 2012!
  • The moving-in experience is improving. There has been an increase in the number of students rating the moving-in experience as ‘very good’ across both university and private halls. Scores for ‘cleanliness’ and ‘staff welcome’ have improved this Autumn as the importance of these factors is recognised by accommodation teams.  Scores for parking at university halls have dropped this wave, but this does not appear to have significantly impacted overall perceptions. 
  • Booking experience scores for university halls are now almost equivalent to private halls. This has been driven by a significant increase in performance for university halls which appears to be linked to improved ratings of ‘arrival information’ and ‘online inductions’.
  • Budget is less important than last year. Proximity to place of study, feeling safe and secure, and the condition and quality of the accommodation continue to be the most important factors for students when choosing where to live. However, this wave budget has dropped below bedroom in importance.  The availability of an en-suite is also less important this wave than it has been previously.
  • Nearly 9 in 10 students would be willing to pay more for at least one premium feature. A gym was the most popular, with 65% saying they would pay a premium for it, followed by a swimming pool (44%), catering (38%), a cinema room (36%) and an on-site café (35%).
  • Retention figures are higher this Autumn than last, with a larger proportion of students saying they will be staying on in their accommodation.

This wave was the first time we had asked students about their willingness to pay for premium features, and so the high number of students willing to pay for at least one premium feature, along with the reduced importance of budget in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis was somewhat of a surprise this Autumn.

However, this willingness to pay for premium features may be further confirmation that in spite of the increased cost of living, students continue to be willing to invest in the long-term benefits of a positive accommodation experience and that we have not yet reached a tipping point where students are cutting back in this area.

It may also indicate that as students cut down on discretionary spending, comfort and facilities at ‘home’ are more important than ever. Other sector research highlights that students are responding to cost-of-living concerns by cutting down on travel expenses and sporting and social activities. As an example, Office for Students research found that “over half (56 per cent) have reduced what might be seen as non-essential spending (such as takeaways and nights out).” Similarly, an Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey has found that 28% of students report travelling to university or college less frequently and 25% attend lectures remotely where possible in order to save money. It is possible that as students are faced with spending more time at ‘home’ than previously to manage budgets, they are willing to redirect a portion of their savings into ensuring that their accommodation experience compensates at least partly for some of their lost student experience.

In 2023 GSL and CUBO collaborated on an important research report for the sector, Future Proof: Meeting the diverse needs of international students which has been widely acclaimed and is now available for public download from the link above. We’re delighted to announce that GSL will be partnering with CUBO again in 2024 to deliver another in-depth report, and we would invite you to encourage colleagues from across the sector to contribute to this important research by participating.