What do Indian students need from UK student accommodation?
As predicted by the government’s 2019 international student strategy, the number of Indian students studying in the UK has grown significantly in the past few years. Bernadette Cochonat, Head of International Sales at Unite Students, shares what trends have been identified within this student population, and how that shapes their accommodation needs.
What do we know about the Indian student population?
The international student landscape has changed drastically in the past five years, in part due to Brexit and Covid. However, another big shift has taken place since the post-study work visa was reintroduced in 2021 – a rapid increase in Indian students choosing to study in the UK.
Comparisons can be drawn between the journeys and needs of Indian students and students from China, the UK’s largest international student cohort. We’ve seen over the last decade that Chinese students are usually from families with one child due to the country’s longstanding one-child policy, which means that their parents have often been able to save for their child to access the world’s best universities and the best accommodation in their university city. It also means there’s an expectation that they look after their family – so Chinese students might be more likely to study at undergraduate level and return to China afterwards.
However, we’re seeing a different picture with Indian students, who are more likely to come from a larger family and – as a result – have more pressures on the family budget. This means that cost and employability concerns may be more influential for this population than university ranking, while the UK’s unusual one-year Masters degree structure is particularly appealing, as there’s only one year of tuition fees to be paid. Work opportunities during and after study are also a real incentive.
Another thing to be aware of is the cultural diversity of Indian students, reflecting the cultural diversity of their country. This is particularly pronounced when it comes to religion, as India has most of the world’s Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, as well as significant Muslim, Christian and Buddhist populations: this can influence students’ dietary requirements and what religious festivals are observed, for example.
What does this mean for their student accommodation needs?
Finances may influence Indian students to study in major cities, as there will be more part-time job opportunities, and will have an impact on what accommodation they choose. With bills usually excluded from rents, Houses of Multiple Occupancy [HMOs] may look more appealing at face value than all-inclusive purpose-built student accommodation [PBSA], which can lead to issues down the line when bills arrive.
Of those students who do opt to live in PBSA, price sensitivity is particularly noticeable compared to Chinese students – while the latter have a preference for premium studio flats, Indian students are more likely to consider the most affordable options, such as non-ensuite rooms or classic ensuite rooms in a shared flat. There may also have additional requests to accommodate within their booking, such as asking to live in a vegetarian-only or single-gender flat.
The knowledge gap
There is currently a widespread lack of understanding about UK student accommodation within India, and demand from Indian students has outstripped the pace at which touchpoints for credible advice have developed. Unite Students works with major accommodation agents in India with a good knowledge of the market, and who share our values about the student experience – but not every student has this experience.
Education agents offer professional advice and guidance to students on their academic choices, but often have a limited understanding of the UK’s student accommodation landscape in the UK, meaning they can offer misleading information in this area. Some take the time to refer students with questions about housing to other agents specialised in the field, but others may redirect students to online letting websites, or tell students not to worry about accommodation until they arrive in the UK – by which point there may be very limited options available.
This disconnect between different touchpoints in Indian students’ journey to the UK is a key issue that we are trying to address by educating the local market together with UK universities and our local partners in India. We have also worked with Indian students to create blog and vlog content that shares key messages including the importance of booking accommodation early, and why they chose to live in PBSA. We’re also promoting our ‘No place no pay’ and ‘No visa no pay’ policies, which reassure prospective tenants that they won’t lose out if their university application or visa are denied.
This work will take time, but with more than half of India’s billion-strong population being under the age of 25, this population looks set to be a major part of the UK higher education scene for years to come.
You can read more insights from Bernadette in her blog about supporting Chinese students’ mental health.