Student accommodation executives expect a strong – if unpredictable – fall 2021

Student housing bookings are up for fall 2021, according to leading purpose-build student accommodation (PBSA) CEOs who participated in last week’s online Real Asset Media’s Student Housing in Post-Pandemic Times webinar.

May 28, 2021 ICEF Monitor

As well as shining light on demand for accommodation, the webinar also provided insight into how international students are approaching study abroad this year: they are “hedging their bets” in a wait-and-see approach to which destinations and institutions make the most sense in the coming months.

Dan Baker, general manager EMEA at, said,

“In January we were 70% down, in May we are 130% up and we are above 2019 levels. May has been a real shift for us, getting back to business. We’re seeing a huge compression of demand in the last months of the booking cycle. People are booking in multiple locations and waiting to see what happens.”

Stewart Moore, CEO of UK-based CRM Students says the trend is especially evident in Asian markets: “Asian students are booking in multiple countries, reserving places at universities around the world and then choosing where to go depending on the situation, so August and September will be very busy months for accommodation.”

Mr Moore says that students’ ultimate choices will be particularly influenced by how countries’ vaccination rates improve.

BONARD research highlights strong pent-up demand for study abroad, with 71% of students saying they would rather quarantine in a host country versus 29% who would rather study online at home.

High applications versus ultimate enrolments

While the evident demand for study abroad is good news for international educators and accommodation providers, a real challenge will be converting applications into enrolments given the trend of students spreading their applications around various destinations. Much will depend on governments’ decisions around travel restrictions, institutions’ safety and quarantine arrangements, visa processing times and acceptance rates, and as Mr Moore said, vaccination rollouts.

A recent IDP Connect Crossroads survey found that many international students now expect some help with financing their quarantine, and a growing number of universities are now responding to this expectation by either totally or partially paying for students’ quarantine. Such strategies may well have some influence on which institutions students choose, not only because of the financial aspect but also because it suggests a high level of support in general for international students.


IDP’s global research shows that only 28% of students are willing to pay the full cost of quarantine.

A strong recovery looks likely for fall 2021

Some PBSA executives noted that 2020 wasn’t as bad for their business as was feared. Michael Neuman, vice-president investments for Ivanhoé Cambridge, said,

“We anticipated a bigger fall in international students than actually materialised. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well the market recovered and it’s now looking very strong.”

There was consensus that fall 2021 will mark a significant recovery for on-campus housing, with students arriving expecting face-to-face teaching or at least a hybrid model. A snap interactive poll of webinar attendees found that half (52%) predict that 80–90% of student housing spaces will be full, and another 22% believe they will be 90–100% full.

PBSA2 Results from webinar poll question: “To what level will we see students arriving on site in September 2021?” Source: BONARD

India remains a worry’s Dan Baker noted that the COVID situation in India is worrying; recently 20% of his 40-person team in Bangalore were ill with the virus, highlighting the devastation many Indian families are experiencing right now. If the pandemic doesn’t ease in India, not only will families be less able to send their students abroad, but destination countries won’t feel able to open their borders to them. Virus flare-ups in any region are possible still, and this does make fall 2021 enrolments and accommodation bookings unpredictable.

UK is “flying” when it comes to Chinese bookings

PBSA bookings are of course to a large degree correlated to student intentions to study in a particular destination, and Mr Baker notes that the UK is “absolutely flying” in terms of demand, especially from China, and that Canada is also looking strong in terms of Chinese bookings for fall 2021. He says that factors for this include Australia and New Zealand being effectively closed to international students and slow visa processing times or visa offices being closed in the US. While US visa offices are beginning to operate more fully, Mr Baker thinks it may be “too little too late” and that many students will have decided in March or April to switch destinations. Still, he says, there’s been a strong pickup of demand for the US in the past couple of weeks.

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