HEPI-UPP report investigates why so many students live away from home

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and University Partnerships Programme (UPP) have published a new report on the dominance of the residential model of student life in the UK, entitled ‘Somewhere to live: Why British students study away from home – and why it matters’ (HEPI Report 121).

The paper considers the Medieval origins of the residential model, its spread across the university system after the Second World War and the policy consequences for taxpayers, students and institutions. It also raises questions for the future.

The report was sponsored by UPP, the UK’s leading provider of on-campus residential and academic accommodation infrastructure.

The launch of the report follows roundtable events hosted by UPP and HEPI at the Labour (pictured) and Conservative Party Conferences, which brought together stakeholders from across the higher education sector to discuss residential student living.

The Reverend Professor William Whyte, the author of the report, said: “There is general agreement within the higher education sector that there are areas of student accommodation provision that need reforming. But there is much less discussion about why we expect students to need specific accommodation at all.

“In this report, I explore a distinctive but neglected aspect of UK higher education: the fact that British students are more likely to study away from home than almost any others anywhere in the world.

“Uncovering this history enables us to understand how the residential model became such a defining feature of Britain’s universities. More importantly, it raises questions about how the nature and purposes of that model today.

“There are many problems with the residential university. It is expensive – and becoming ever more so. It disadvantages those students who do not live away from home and those young people who never get a chance to attend university. It can alienate and exclude others, especially the communities who live around the campus.

“And yet, residence is undeniably popular and remains desirable, despite its costs. By tracing its history, we can also consider its future, and how it might come to serve the interests of all.”

In the Foreword to the report, Jon Wakeford, UPP’s Group Corporate Affairs Director and Chair of the UPP Foundation, writes: “This report makes an important contribution to current debates on higher education by exploring why Britain has adopted residential campus living for many students, what the impact of this has been and how this might develop in the future.

“Demand for student accommodation remains strong, with many young people still wishing to leave home to benefit from a fully immersive higher education experience.

“Importantly, Professor Whyte outlines how the issue of the value-for-money of accommodation has emerged as a key area of focus for both the NUS and the Office for Students in the wider context of the affordability of going to university. We would support such a review and engage alongside our university partners with whom we agree rents annually.”

Nick Hillman, the Director of HEPI, said: “There are big consequences from having such a high proportion of students living away from home. Some of them are positive, as it makes higher education even more life transforming and a clearer part of the journey to independent adulthood.

“But there are challenges too, such as the extra support needed to cover students’ cost of living and the bigger break between school or college and higher education.

“The whole issue is even reflected in the current general election campaign, which has brought to life the long-standing issue of where students should be allowed to vote. They typically have one foot in one constituency and the other in another, straddling two different areas. They may be on the electoral register in both places, though often move to a third area the minute they graduate.

“This report provides the opportunity to discuss what student accommodation should be like in the future. What proportion of students should live away from home? How costly should it be to live in bespoke student accommodation? What support should be on offer?

“All these questions and more need to be discussed in detail if today’s student body, which is more diverse than ever before, are to be looked after properly.”

William is Professor of Social and Architectural History and a fellow of St John’s College, Oxford. He was a Commissioner on the recent Commission on the Civic University and currently serves as the Assessor of the University of Oxford. His books include ‘Redbrick: a social and architectural history of Britain’s civic universities’ (Oxford, 2015).

This project was sponsored by UPP, with full editorial control retained by the author and HEPI’s staff, Advisory Board and Trustees.