1. Executive summary
1.1 Introduction and background
This summary describes scoping research carried out to inform the development of a review of Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA). PBSA is a specialised form of housing build for students, which has become more common in recent years. The 2020-2021 Programme for Government (PfG) commits to a review of PBSA:
"In the context of the significant growth in purpose built student accommodation and COVID‑19, we will conduct in 2021 a review of purpose built student accommodation, in partnership with stakeholders. This will be taken forwards in parallel with work to ensure rent affordability and improving standards across the Private Rented Sector."
To meet this PfG commitment, in January 2021 the Scottish Government carried out scoping research to identify key themes that the review could consider. The aim of this research was to provide evidence to assist the PfG review of PBSA in:
- Establishing a clear and constructive scope
- Providing data that the Scottish Government currently does not hold and that can inform the PfG review.
A Research Steering Group was created to oversee the research. A scoping survey, drafted in collaboration with Group members, was used to gather data on PBSA in Scotland. The number of responses received was 46: 42 responses were submitted via the online survey portal and an additional four respondents provided evidence via email. Most respondents were either student representative groups, FE or HE institutions, or private PBSA providers. Quantitative data were analysed on the survey platform, while a thematic coding framework was used to analyse qualitative responses.
1.3 Overview of findings
The survey collected quantitative data on PBSA provision in Scotland, which is documented in the report. This includes information about: cost, contract terms, tenancy agreements, planning and regulation, specialist accommodation, and support for students.
Qualitative data was gathered on a range of topics. The report firstly focusses on qualitative findings related to student needs and wellbeing, sharing survey respondents' views on issues such as:
- Mental health and wellbeing support for students.
- Equal access to PBSA.
- The experiences of international students.
The report then focusses on regulation, affordability, contractual arrangements, and the role of local authorities. Topics covered by respondents in relation to these issues include:
- Possible approaches to the regulation of PBSA tenancies.
- Ensuring policies such as widening access are embedded in the provision and regulation of PBSA.
- Contractual arrangements between HE institutions and private PBSA providers.
- The role of local authorities in regulating PBSA planning and development.
Finally, the report briefly shares respondents' views on the future of PBSA and the PfG review. Themes raised by respondents include:
- Future models of PBSA provision.
- Differences between institution and privately provided PBSA.
1.4 Summary of recommendations
Evidence gathered from the scoping survey suggests the review of PBSA should consider a number of issues, although it is likely that this list will need some prioritisation.
1.4.1 Mental health and wellbeing
- The delivery of consistent mental health and wellbeing support for students living in PBSA.
- The way in which relevant codes of practice and guidance, such as ANUK/Unipol codes, can support the delivery of such support.
- How to encourage joined up working between institutions and private PBSA in relation to student mental health and wellbeing.
- The delivery of a minimum liveable standard in PBSA.
1.4.2 Accessibility and adaptability
- The needs of disabled students, including those with ambulatory disabilities, and ensuring equal access to suitable accommodation.
- The cost of accommodation for students who required accessible or adapted rooms.
- How accessibility and equality can be embedded within the regulation of PBSA, ensuring the public sector equality duty is consistently upheld.
- How to ensure flexibility and adaptability in PBSA provision for estranged and care experienced students.
- How PBSA providers can be best supported to meet the needs of the diverse student population.
1.4.3 International students
- The needs and perspectives of international students in more depth, given the range of different perspectives provided in the scoping survey.
- How to ensure international students have access to suitable accommodation and are not placed at risk of financial disadvantage.
- The current mechanisms by which PBSA is regulated, for example, in relation to health and safety and HMOHMO licencing
- The fair regulation of PBSA provision in the future, potentially including a specific regulatory regime for PBSA tenancies in Scotland that takes into account the specifics of the PBSA sector, but ensures students have access to the rights enjoyed by other renters.
- The issue of notice periods in more depth, seeking to find a balance between providing students with more flexibility to exit tenancies and the administrative and operational requirements of PBSA.
1.4.5 Affordability and widening access
- How to ensure Scottish Government policies, such as widening access, are reflected in the provision and regulation of PBSA, to ensure fair access to education for students from all backgrounds.
- How affordability is defined and measured in relation to student accommodation
- Current approaches to affordability among PBSA providers
- The alignment of student accommodation costs with student income and expenditure, taking into account average student loan values, as well as the different levels of access to work and family support that students may have.
- The involvement of students and student representative organisations in PBSA rent setting decisions.
1.4.6 Contractual arrangements between HE/FE institutions and private PBSA providers
- The process by which institutions tender contracts with private providers of PBSA, seeking to ensure a greater degree of transparency in this process.
- The issue of contract tendering and whether a more consistent approach would be beneficial, given the mixed views expressed on this topic and the lack of detailed input from institutions.
- The maintenance of student wellbeing and high standards of pastoral support when institutions contract accommodation provision to private providers.
1.4.7 Local authorities and PBSA
- The better engagement of a range of stakeholders in the development of local authority housing strategies and local development plans, including PBSA providers, institutions and student representatives.
- How to include factors such as affordability and community cohesion in local authorities' approach to PBSA, considering whether percentage based models such as the London Plan may enable this.
1.4.8 The future and PfG review recommendations
- The future of PBSA provision and the implications of this upon the review in more depth, given the uncertainties and differing views expressed by respondents at the time of the scoping survey.
- The specifics of private and institution provided PBSA, seeking to find a fair approach to regulation that involves a range of key stakeholders in decision making.
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