Italian Higher Education and Student Living: Burgeoning Interest from Abroad

The Italian student housing market is notably different from others. A lack of English taught courses continues to be the biggest barrier to internationalisation of its education, and regional divides hinder investments into student housing. Nonetheless, we still see growing interest in both Italian higher education and the Italian student housing market. These are some of the lessons learned at The Class of 2020’s first ever Italy Regional Session hosted with Camplus and JLL on Wednesday June 14th.

The event kicked-off with a statement from Maurizio Carvelli, founder and CEO of Camplus, who introduced his company’s business model as one that looks at students as a work in progress, not, as some may think, a number that needs to be fulfilled. With annual earnings of more than €300 million, Camplus has been the leader of student accommodation in Italy since 1985. Following Mr. Carvelli’s statement, there was a panel discussion focused on urban strategy and talent attraction with:

  • Claudio Francese, Key Partnerships Director of Uniplaces,
  • Davide Dattoli, CoFounder and CEO of Talent Garden
  • Stefano Blanco, General Director of Fondazione Collegio delle Universita’ Milanesi

Throughout this first panel, it was clear from the panelists that students in Italy are regarded as the human capital needed to lift the country from dire straits. The question that lingers is, how do we provide them with the tools to attract and retain them? According to Blanco, with its unique artistic heritage, Italy has become a hub for international students in the arts, such as fashion, the fine arts, and music. Unfortunately, students in other disciplines generally bypass Italy for other countries to study. Moreover, the low number of courses taught in English further negatively impacts these numbers, making it virtually impossible for international students to even consider studying in Italy for their full degree. Dattoli spoke about the same issue of Italian education not valuing the English language, thus constraining which students can consider coming. Dattoli also mentioned that more modern, globally oriented lifestyles have contributed to a lack of interest in static jobs and homes: that young people value flexibility, comfort, and personal space, looking at these as the primary factors when choosing a profession and a home. This has led to a growing desire for co-working and co-living spaces, a still untapped market.

Following the first panel, Stuart Osborn of JLL presented valuable data regarding the Italian market, highlighting that Italian universities are relatively well-ranked by QS and that there has been a dramatic uptick in the number of English-taught programmes (which has increased nationally from 7 in 2008 to 307 in 2014). This has resulted in a greater interest from students abroad and a greater demand for student-specific housing; yet, in Italy, direct-let PBSA still only accounts for 2% of the Italian student population. As such, Italy is seen by investors as a market full of opportunities, however investors recognize the need to understand the dynamics and characteristics of this country.

The second panel discussed student housing investments and developments in Italy, with:

  • Alberto Sidro, Fund Manager of Fabrica Immobiliare,
  • Walter La Gamma, Global Business Development Manager for Camplus,
  • Felix Hillen, Managing Director of The Student Hotel
  • Cecilia Castelli, Consultant at Ambrosetti – The European House.

Each of these panelists represents invested interests in the Italian student housing market. While there were disagreements on business strategies and desired yields, the greatest takeaways from this panel were focused more on the product itself: building a home. Part of this is creating a good story, according to Castelli who mentioned The Student Hotel as an excellent example of story-telling. Especially amongst younger student groups, developing a feeling of authenticity and care is an important part of the transition to living away from home. Hillen discussed some of the things that successful student accommodation developments do. In terms of offering amenities, it is not as important simply being able to “check” off a list of the facilities and services offered, but rather, it is about how you offer them. It’s about quality and care. Still, even with a good product in mind, investing or expanding operations in Italy is often prohibitively difficult due to regional legislative and bureaucratic divides that disallow investors to create nationwide strategies.

There is a need for a call to action to create a national leadership that garners the attention of and involves the Ministry of Education. A coalition of operators, investors, universities, and cities would be able to identify and resolve some of the obstacles, allowing the market to reach its full potential. Students want to come to Italy. How can we help them?

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