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Exploring the Growth of the International Student Accommodation Market: A Global Perspective

August 22, 2023

With the boundaries of education becoming increasingly global, the realm of international students is undergoing a significant transformation with massive growth opportunities. The international student accommodation market stands as a testament to this shift, playing a pivotal role in catering to the needs of a diverse and mobile student population.

We delve deep into the widespread growth and dynamic trends of the international student accommodation market. It offers insights into its global influence, the market's evolution, and the significant international student market size that fuels its momentum.

International Student Market Size: A Global Perspective

The international student market has burgeoned into a colossal force, shaping educational landscapes across the globe. Recent statistics illuminate its significance, with millions of students seeking educational opportunities beyond their borders. 

In 2020, there were over 6.3 million international students, up from 2 million in 2000. Nearly half of these students were enrolled in US, UK, Australia, Germany, Canada, France and China programmes. Notable countries contributing to the international student population in 2020 included China, India, Vietnam, Germany, and the US.

Analysis from the market intelligence firm HolonIQ predicts over 8 million international student enrolments by 2030. Additionally, the firm forecasts USD$433 billion in international student spending by 2030, more than double what it was in 2019.

Major destinations such as the USA, UK, Australia, and Canada are leading the charge in this educational revolution – commonly referred to as the "Big Four." These countries compete for roughly half the global flow of international students, with the US attracting nearly 950,000 international students in 2022.

These countries have established themselves as education hubs, attracting students with their diverse courses, esteemed institutions, and cultural vibrancy. This influx has created a ripple effect on student accommodation, pushing for modern, comfortable, and technologically integrated options that cater to the specific needs of international learners.

Other notable countries attracting international students include China, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia and Spain.

Focus on the International Student Market UK

The UK has emerged as a key player in international education, drawing students from around the globe to its esteemed institutions. With a significant surge in international student numbers, the country remains a preferred destination for higher education. International student enrolment in the UK increased by 12.4% in 2021/22 from the previous year, growing to 679,970 international students attending UK universities.

The growth is largely spurred by students coming from non-EU countries, including China, India and Nigeria. China takes up the largest section (27%) of the UK international student market, with the country seeing a 41% increase in Chinese students between 2017 and 2021. In the 2021/22 academic term, around 151,690 Chinese students enrolled to study in the UK.

Conversely, EU students coming to study in the UK decreased by 21.4% in 2021/22. This is likely due to the 2021/22 year being the first in which European students were required to pay full international fees as a result of the UK leaving the European Union. The drop in EU students coming to the UK has already been offset by the increase in Chinese students, showing that the Chinese student market brings incredible value for PBSAs looking to fill beds.

Understanding the International Student Accommodation Market

The international student accommodation market is a crucial nexus between education and real estate, catering to students venturing abroad for their studies. It's not just about places to sleep; it's a variety of living choices, from dorms managed by universities to purpose-built student accommodations (PBSAs), homestays, and shared apartments. These accommodations go beyond housing, fostering learning, cultural exchange, and personal growth.

What's driving the growth of this market is the increasing number of students studying abroad. They're chasing quality education, diverse perspectives, and global experiences, pushing the need for higher-quality student accommodation. This need has a bigger impact than we might think. Besides tuition, international students bring money to the local economy through what they spend on housing, transport, shopping, and services. This boost doesn't just help accommodation providers; it touches many sectors and adds to the mix of cultures and understanding.

It's a two-way street. As more students head abroad, they need better places to live, and that's where innovative designs and amenities come in. PBSAs are built just for that – they're equipped with all the modern amenities students need and spaces where they can connect with others, learn, and build a sense of community.

Evolution of International Student Accommodation

The way student accommodations have evolved is fascinating, going beyond the regular dormitories to PBSAs. These used to be simple places to stay, but are now customised living spaces that cater to every aspect of a student's life.

Traditional dormitories, often confined to the basics, have given way to PBSAs that prioritise comfort, security, and community. This shift is because students today want more than just a place to sleep – they're after environments that help them study better and grow personally. These preferences have driven investments in state-of-the-art amenities, communal spaces, and modern design concepts, transforming PBSAs into hubs for learning, cultural exchange, and social engagement.

Speaking of change, innovative accommodation models like co-living spaces and tech-integrated housing have emerged as disruptive forces. Co-living spaces are about having students with diverse backgrounds share the same living space, so they're always swapping ideas and experiences. Meanwhile, tech-integrated housing harnesses the power of smart technology to enhance convenience, safety, and connectivity, aligning with the tech-savvy nature of modern students.

The Role of International Student Marketing for PBSAs

Having effective marketing strategies is a game-changer when it comes to attracting international students to PBSAs. It's not just about selling, but showing how education and branding work together. Great international student marketing campaigns for PBSAs are more than just ads – they respect different cultures and digital preferences.

Cultural sensitivity is a cornerstone in these campaigns, recognising the diverse backgrounds of potential students. Which is particularly relevant when marketing to Chinese students. This incredibly niche market is often put in its own segment apart from the broader international student population due to its vast differences.

Tailoring marketing messages to align with cultural values and norms demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity and understanding, fostering a sense of belonging that transcends geographical boundaries.

Additionally, digital engagement is used to further amplify a marketing campaign's reach and impact. Using social media, virtual tours, and personalised content ensures PBSAs maintain a robust online presence in the digital spaces where prospective students explore options. The pandemic has expedited the integration of virtual experiences, underscoring the importance of adaptable and immersive online platforms.

The most important aspect to remember when marketing to international students is that each market is unique. It’s not enough to develop one broad international student marketing campaign. Each needs its own strategy. Especially for a market as unique as China, where differences extend beyond cultural preferences to a whole different digital landscape.

For example, UK-based PBSA’s marketing to China have turned to WeChat to reach their audience on their most used and loved platform, including launching WeChat Mini Programs to reach and engage the Chinese student market

How do WeChat Mini Programs help you reach Chinese Students?

WeChat Mini Programs are lightweight applications within the WeChat ecosystem that offer a wide range of functionalities. They provide users with a seamless and immersive experience without the need to install separate apps. Mini Programs can be accessed directly within the WeChat app, making them convenient and easily accessible for Chinese students.

By leveraging WeChat Mini Programs, PBSAs can create an immersive experience for prospective Chinese students – including features like 360-degree tours, location maps and interactive communication channels. It also makes it easy to provide additional marketing content like information about local attractions, campus life, and student support services. All focused on the unique needs and preferences of the Chinese student market.

A Promising Future for the International Student Accommodation Industry

The way international student accommodations and marketing have evolved tells a story of flexibility, innovation, and global togetherness. Purpose-built living spaces have become vibrant centres for learning and teamwork, addressing the unique needs of students worldwide. 

At the same time, international student marketing serves as a bridge between education and eager learners. Successful campaigns mix cultural insights with digital know-how, creating connections that cross borders. Virtual experiences give a full-on immersion, bridging the gaps of distance.

To benefit from the growth of the international student market, PBSAs need to develop marketing strategies that zone in on specific markets, like Chinese students. That way, it’s easier to build a marketing strategy that is personalised to the needs, interests and preferences of the market. The Chinese student marketing in particular requires a customised approach.

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