Accommodating International Students – Creating conditions for Success

How can universities turn student accommodation from a problem into a strength? How can accommodation contribute to the success of international students? 

These were some of the questions asked in the EAIE webinar on the 3rd of February when The Class of 2020’s Wouter Onclin joined forces with Richard Kington, Director of Accommodation services at the University of Edinburgh, to tackle this subject.

Accommodation helps student recruitment

According to Richard Kington, although courses, reputation and locations are the primary and most decisive factors in the decision-making process, accommodation also plays an influential role in shaping international students’ choices when it comes to which institution to go to. Hence, it can alleviate many of students’ concerns be it cultural, linguistic, religious or financial, if they know where they are going to live.

Bad accommodation can impact the decision-making process of students negatively

In case the housing offered by a university does not meet the demand – as is the case in many European university cities – students will be anxious about securing their accommodations before the start of a semester. So, when weighing options when choosing a university, prospective students may choose to go, where finding a place to live will not be an issue.

Bad accommodation experiences can damage the reputation of universities as well. Although on the upside, good and adequate housing will reduce the obstacles created by other aspects significantly. For example, the initial “cultural shock” phenomenon experienced by many international students can be eased by providing accommodation that offers common spaces and hubs, which foster socialising.

Accommodation supports student satisfaction

Research published by STeXX (shown in the figure below) highlights that the most important factors when reviewing student experiences is their study programme, since 25% of all responses were about academic aspects.

“But this also means 75% of the comments are about things that happen outside the classroom”, said Wouter Onclin. Considering that accommodation belongs to the remaining 75%, it can be concluded that housing is a crucial influencer of student satisfaction.


Figure 1: Aspects that influence student satisfaction (Source: )












Accommodation supports student success

Although there is not a lot of research done regarding the impact of student accommodation on student success, it can be assumed that when a student feels stimulated and supported in his residence, he or she is likely to do better academically. For example, various studies from US universities reveal that students who live on campus are more involved in campus life, have a lower dropout rate, and perform at a higher academic level than off-campus students.

Student accommodation is the place where opportunities are offered for the integration of international and local students, as well as students from different backgrounds. Shared facilities are the key to building valuable friendships and expanding professional networks. These sometimes lifelong bonds will help students advance their future careers.

Do international students have special needs?

When it comes to the actual physical need of a bed, a room or WIFI, local and international students have virtually the same requirements. However, finding accommodation for internationals is more challenging, since usually there is no local network they can fall back on and their knowledge of the local housing market is limited. But for them more so than local students, securing accommodation is essential, especially when facing an urgent deadline like the start of a new semester.

Besides finding a place to live in, integration is another vital aspect for international students. Therefore, social places and residence life programmes are important factors for building a community, which aids their integration process.

The needs for specific facilities can be culture specific, for instance, double rooms are very uncommon in Northern and Western Europe, while they are the norm in many places in Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as throughout Asia and the US. For incoming students from these regions, a shared room might be a great affordable product that suits their needs – even when they study in Germany.

Figure 2: Services in student residences are provided on three levels: the bedroom level, the residential group level and the property level


480 students sharing a kitchen

The University of Edinburgh’s new Holyrood residence has come up with an innovative concept that takes sharing facilities to a new level. Shared kitchens have been taken out of their residential groups, and have all been merged into one large, masterchef–like setting on the ground floor where students cook together. This means that at any time of the day, students can find someone else to interact with if they wish. But most of all, it shows that one size does not fit all, and innovations in the residence are possible.

How to turn accommodation into a strength for your university?

Partnerships between universities and housing providers are key to offering international students a place to live, especially when universities do not possess their own housing. The list below provides several ways in which partnerships between housing providers and universities can be mutually beneficial:

  • Shared Marketing (e.g. housing provider logo on university website): University partners with housing provider, adding trust and credibility to housing providers.
  • Referrals: University actively refers students to accommodation provider – a lower rate or fee per contract may be negotiated. Vacancy risk remains with housing provider and there are no guaranteed rooms for students.
  • Rental agreements: University reserves fixed number of rooms during the academic year and guarantees availability to students. University takes on vacancy risk. Rooms may be offered under market rate.
  • Nomination agreements: Agreement where university guarantees occupancy rates for a specified number of years, often with five ore ten-year break clauses.
  • Packaging: Package education and housing together as a single offer to students. E.g. where all students in a programme are required to live together.
  • Land lease agreements: Private developers are granted a lease on university land to develop and operate a new property, usually paired with nomination agreements and reduced rents.
  • Development agreements: The university and housing developer work together to develop and operate housing. Developer is responsible for investment, development and construction. University may operate and/or market it as if it were their own. The university is a contract partner and may be a shareholder in a joint venture.
  • Stock transfer agreements: The university transfers old campus housing to a private company, including responsibility for maintenance and operations.

Knowledge is power

The link between accommodation and student success and satisfaction is underexplored. The Class of 2020 is working on filling this knowledge gap but in the meantime, it is important that we learn from the people who have been doing this for a long time. This is why we would like to conclude this blog with a list of advise from Richard Kington, who has been working with accommodating students at the University of Edinburgh for many years.

Kington suggests that the keys to successfully accommodating students are:

  • Good planning and coordination between admissions and housing teams
  • Good forecasting by University admissions teams
  • Embedding guarantees as part of University selling proposition
  • University guarantee may make you a stronger partner for housing providers.
  • More options, more negotiating powers with private housing providers
  • Do not mix older and younger students too much
  • Do mix nationalities
  • Provide as many choices as possible – by type and price
  • Good communal spaces are essential
  • Provide Residence Life support – live in wherever possible





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