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Student housing: Key to driving education sector growth

By Kaushal Mahan

With more and more students relocating in search of better education, having access to safe, affordable and good quality housing has emerged as a worrying point for them. The challenge confronting educational institutions on how to support students' housing needs has opened up an opportunity for the private sector, leading to a professionally-managed student accommodation sector in India.

According to industry reports, India has about 34 million students pursuing higher education, including over 10 million migrant students. But only 3.6 million students gain access to hostel accommodation at college/university campuses. A majority have to find accommodation, either by taking a house on rent, paying guest facilities or in private hostels, with access to food, laundry and internet. This presents a huge challenge for students, as such accommodations don't always guarantee them consistent quality in terms of rentals, basic amenities and security.

Reports also note that top-10 Indian states that have the largest student populations face a yawning gap in terms of housing, with 30-60% students facing a challenge in securing safe and good quality housing. This gap between demand and supply of accommodation is only going to widen, considering the government's focus on increasing student enrolment by 30% by 2020. Add to this the influx of foreign students, whose numbers are expected to increase.

In countries like the UK and Australia, student housing has emerged as a major sector, anchored on investments and policy support. Once a niche market, global investments in student housing reached $17.1 billion in 2018. Data shows a further $2.4 billion was invested in the sector globally, with notable transactions from Brookfield, Greystar, PSP Investments and Allianz. Student housing has also gained traction in the global alternative property segment for pension funds and sovereign wealth funds, particularly in the UK and among private investors in India.

Many players are venturing into the student housing market in India, helping the sector evolve into a more formalised structure that can guarantee minimum quality standards in terms of food, security, hygiene, and convenient and transparent modes of transacting. Apart from cities such as Bangalore, Pune, Chennai and Mumbai, organised student housing is now expanding to places such as suburbs of Delhi NCR, Jaipur, Kota, Manipal, Indore and Dehradun. Price differences between university and private sector accommodation are also reducing. The growth of the organised student housing sector will play a major role in positioning India as a global education hub and a lucrative destination for foreign students.

With the government laying emphasis on ensuring standardisation across the affordable housing sector with respect to location provision and regulations, it is important that similar measures are created for student housing as well. Given the huge potential of this sector, the government must take measures to recognise the sector as an alternate asset class and creates a conducive environment to propel its growth in an organised manner.

The author is convenor, Student Accommodation Providers Forum of India