Student Accommodation & University Commercial Services: Insights from Conference Season 2023

It is the 2023 student accommodation conference season, and I am thrilled to have participated in two pivotal events. I initially spoke on recruitment in the sector at The CUBO Winter Conference and then led a panel discussing accommodation challenges at the Property Week Exhibition, Conference and Awards (Dec 2023).

In November, I spoke on the topic of search and selection at the CUBO Winter Conference alongside MRG’s Board Director, Michael Hewlett, tackling some of the critical issues around diversity and inclusion, internal barriers to hiring, and advertising. This provoked interesting questions from a knowledgeable and curious group of delegates about improving their employer brand proposition and attracting a more diverse talent pool for interviews. We also covered psychometric assessments and how this can provide universities insight on balancing your teams with different personality groups.

Last week’s Property Week Conference was as informative as ever, gathering the investors, developers, operators and suppliers linked with the sector. Highlights included hearing from Paddy Jackman, the CEO of Unipol and Anna Strongman, CEO of Oxford Property Developments, on balancing affordability against rising costs. It was also good to see the HMO market represented at the conference, a vital part of how we house students in the UK.

Following this, I hosted a Property Week panel on ‘navigating accommodation challenges’. I was joined by Amanda Castray, Director of Campus Life at Ulster University, who provided valuable insight into the different partnership models and some of the affordability challenges involved in the Northern Irish market. With only 15% of their accommodation university-owned, it is imperative that their campus life team take an active role with their partners to improve resident wellbeing.

Robin Walsh, Head of Residential at Bournemouth University, provided a good understanding of residence life programmes and how the rising cost of accommodation had caused financial issues for students. With maintenance loans not keeping up with a rise of 11.2% in rents since 2021/22, students have been forced to find ancillary ways of funding their higher education experience.

Finally, I was joined by Andy Stanford, Director at Walsh, who provided insight into the intricacies of de-risking student premises in the pre-planning phase and making it more flexible. He also spoke on the differences between the London and regional markets from a planning perspective and whether there was enough innovation in the sector (ultimately some but not enough at the budget end to make significant inroads).

Hearing from experts on crucial sector themes and challenges has been invaluable to me. The sharing of industry knowledge enhances my ability as a recruiter to be a supportive and strategic partner to my clients and candidates. Contributing to these lively discussions and meeting new and old contacts in the sector was a pleasure, and I hope to have the opportunity to learn about and contribute to more thought-provoking topics again during conference season next year.


Contact James Gregory to learn more about student accommodation at MRG.

Request a proposal