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3 things we learned from the HEPI Annual Conference

18 June 2024

Last week, Jenny Shaw (HE External Engagement Director) was out and about at sector conferences including HEPI’s Annual Conference, with its focus on the forthcoming General Election.

If you couldn’t make it to the event, here are Jenny’s three event takeaways for student accommodation.


The HEPI Annual Conference is always an interesting and pleasant conference to attend, full of good natured debate and fresh perspectives. This year’s event was no exception, and on the brink of the general election it enabled delegates to explore their hopes and fears for the future of higher education. But what did it mean for student accommodation? Read on…!


1. The next government needs to be vocal about the benefits of international students

Professor Rob Ford, Professor of Political Science at the University of Manchester, returned to the HEPI Annual Conference for the second year running, this time offering pre-election data and commentary with his usual wry humour. In addition to affirming everyone’s suspicions about who is likely to win the election, he also offered some thoughts about international students.

He shared data showing a hardening of attitudes towards international students and their dependents over recent years, especially when the number of students was included in the question. If caps on numbers are to be avoided, he suggested, then the next government will need to change the rhetoric. They should focus on the economic benefits of international students to challenge misinformation and inaccurate beliefs.


2. Students are working longer hours – but we might be able to help them

Over half of students (56%) work during term time, an average of 14.5 hours according to this year’s HEPI / Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey. What’s more, most of those who don’t work would like to, but they are either unable to find a job or are worried that it will affect their studies.

A key talking point at the conference was whether students could maximise their benefit from part-time work. This might involve academic recognition of what they have learned – something that my colleagues at Middlesex University were already doing in the 90s. It can also mean helping students to articulate the skills they have learned, and this idea was endorsed by some of the student speakers throughout the day.

Student accommodation, both in the private and university sectors, often employs students. These conversations made me wonder if we could dial up the benefits for students by including input from Careers and Learning & Development colleagues as part of the deal. It would be interesting to hear if anyone is already doing this.


3. Liberalisation of planning regulation will create growth (and benefit student accommodation)

Labour’s pledge to overhaul planning laws in order to stimulate growth was welcomed as it promises to ease the pressure on student accommodation by increasing supply. This was also discussed at the British Property Federation Living Sectors conference earlier in the week, with developers positive about the policy itself but sceptical about meeting the ambitious targets.

One of the challenges of building the promised 1.5 million new homes is having access to a workforce with the right skills. This may be an opportunity for further and higher education to take action alongside the property development and construction sector to help meet these needs and accelerate growth.

The Unite Students Applicant Index 2024 is coming soon – you can sign up to watch the launch day webinar on the HEPI website.

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