Insight – Current supply issues in student accommodation in Ireland

In a recent report published by the Higher Education Authority, it was forecast that the unprecedented growth in higher education participation over recent years is set to continue.

Projections for the full-time demand for education developed by the Department of Education and Skills estimate that demand will increase from approximately 168,000 in 2014 to nearly 193,000 in 2024.[1] Of course, not all of these will need access to bed spaces near their college of choice, but it is fair to assume that a considerable proportion will.

The market for student accommodation in Dublin in particular is undersupplied, which poses a significant issue, given that Dublin accounts for over 40 percent of all students in third level education in Ireland. Although there are a number of student residences coming to the market in 2017, there are currently only eight consented sites within the development pipeline, of which just four are actually on site.

The market is reacting to solve this problem. A number of third level colleges such as Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin (UCD) have commenced the initial stages of design and construction on large-scale student accommodation projects, on which Linesight are providing Cost and Project Management services. Maynooth University will also soon be opening a 296 bed facility, on which Linesight provided full Cost Management services.

Furthermore, there is support from the government, with Minister for Housing Simon Coveney stating in a recent presentation to the government housing committee that “we should consider creating a dramatic increase in the on-campus and near-to-campus student accommodation. The solutions to student accommodation lie in rapid-build technologies, modular units and so on.”

Key components that should be considered

In most cases, student accommodation can, and should be a relatively simple building type, with plenty of repetition, little requirement for complex building services and less of a need for long-term flexibility than a commercial office building.

Best-in-class projects, however, demonstrate that quality can be achieved within the constraints of tight budgets and strict deadlines. The key considerations for a developer, whether public or private, are that a project is working towards achieving an optimum design and value for money.

Repetition

Student bedrooms are the most intensively used part of a development, and so are the focal points for most expenditure. Given the degree of repetition, they also offer the greatest opportunities for value engineering and potentially, modular construction, without impacting upon the quality and durability of the building. However, as space allowances on most developments are relatively tight (a typical ensuite bedroom is no larger than 12-13 sq.m.), and expenditure on the ensuite WC/shower will have already have been rationalised, there are relatively few opportunities to further cut costs without impacting upon the quality and durability of the building.

Space allowances and efficiency of use

Typically, total area per room ranges from 22 to 25 sq.m. The design should not be driven by the need to minimise the area per room. However, the proportion of study bedroom space to gross floor space can be around the 50 to 60 percent mark. The extent of circulation throughout the building is a significant factor in overall floor areas, and should be a key design consideration from the offset to ensure that the building is efficient.

Expenditure on furniture, fixtures and equipment

Again, this should be driven by the requirements of the end user. Furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) are central to how the building operates post completion, both from a usage and maintenance perspective and are very much a key part of the design process from project commencement.

Communal facilities

Self-catering is the most popular option, and in recent years, the trend has been to reduce the number of study bedrooms per kitchen to increase ownership of communal space. From a student welfare perspective, universities prefer students not to have cooking facilities within their bedroom, as it reduces their use of social areas, which in turn limits their social engagement with other students. The factors that dictate planning include means-of-escape distances and the physical constraint of module dimensions on the size of shared facilities.

Overall build quality

Durability is a key issue for all operators. Building service installations should also be kept relatively simple. As study bedrooms are small, overall building widths are narrow and wall-to-floor ratios are relatively high. This increases the sensitivity of overall building costs to the quality and cost of the facade. In cases where provision for on-site parking is required on a restricted site, this will have a major impact on the per-bed cost of the development.

Ease of maintenance over the lifetime of the building

Student accommodation needs to be designed to facilitate maintenance with minimal disruption to residents. Services to individual rooms should all be capable of isolation, and other elements that require regular cleaning and maintenance, such as windows, must be specified to make access relatively straightforward.

Sustainability

Universities and third level institutions are taking a leading role in specifying sustainable buildings. Running costs have long been a concern for university estates and facilities departments. As clients demand higher targets, and many aspire to a BREEAM excellent or BER A rating, a wider range of sustainability components are being considered.

The target market

A recurrent theme in the provision of student accommodation is that quality standards are driven by the potential to tap into other markets, such as the use of the facilities for out-of-term times for holiday accommodation and conference rentals. This is even more relevant for schemes which are either close to city centres or have good transport links.

Another key area of focus is the market for overseas students. Universities with a strong international presence are investing heavily in accommodation with these well-funded students in mind. They provide, for example, larger study bedrooms than might be specified for a typical student development.

Should you wish to discuss this article further, please do not hesitate to contact Wesley Jesson in Linesight.

Trinity College Dublin’s Oisin House development

Maynooth University’s Student Residences

[1] Report on Student Accommodation: Demand and Supply Higher Education Authority

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