The Class of 2020 has really helped change the student housing sector for the better in the past ten years, but there’s still a lot of demand and plenty to do. When we launched it back in 2011, we started with just nine partners. Now we have close to 90 and The Class has evolved into a platform for exchanging ideas and knowhow for the entire living community, from student housing to co-living and coworking. The Class has helped shape the sector as it has evolved and grown. For the next ten years the platform will help lift student accommodation to the next level and keep doing so in a fun and inspiring way.
The Class came to life together with Frank Uffen, who had the crazy idea after we met at an event at Casa 400, where we talked about the Dutch student housing crisis and I expressed my surprise at the narrow scope of the student housing debate in the Netherlands. As a newbie to the Netherlands, I missed a broader vision, an international perspective on higher education and what it takes to build world-class student housing. I had seen the market develop and mature in the UK and recognized the potential for the sector in Europe. Frank had seen the advantages of good-quality student housing first-hand while studying abroad. He suggested we set up a platform to show the Dutch market there’s not just one type of student and they all have different needs. Hence the Class was born.
It was a very interesting moment and really exciting to create a not-for-profit platform outside the traditional institutional framework where we could be inspired and learn from each other rather than operate in isolation. The Class was to be 100% focused on creating a better living environment for the students who would graduate in 2020. We wanted to address the needs of future generations and get the movers and shakers of the industry on board as well. There was a common mindset amongst the founding partners and a sense of urgency to break down rules that were stifling the growth of the industry. This would help give future students a much wider choice of accommodation and help the Netherlands attract more international students.
The rules did change eventually in the Netherlands, although not in time for us at The Student Hotel. We were the first private company trying to find our way here, but the hybrid model of student accommodation married with hotel rooms we created in line with the rules at that time is actually proving to be very resilient in the current crisis. It was the silver lining for TSH, of a very strict and inflexible system in the Netherlands, it works for a small number of students, but we knew it was not the solution to the Dutch student housing crisis. With the educational role The Class played we saw the Dutch system change to enable thousands of new rooms to be built by a new generation of operators. The innovations combined with the attention we brought to the sector continue to inspire growth across the European market.
One thing that struck me back in 2011 was the total lack of market information. The Class has not only stimulated the exchange of best practices, it has also helped the industry understand the language of the next generations. For me The Class’ biggest achievement has been its ability to show developers and operators that if we treat students like customers everybody is a winner, especially the student.
I think The Class still has a role to play in educating the industry, training new professionals entering the sector and helping us create the type of environments where Generation Z and Alpha will feel comfortable. They care even more about sustainability and community than the millennials. We need to keep listening to our customers - they drive all innovations and the Class can help pull all these ideas and developers together.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen the coming of age of the hybrid model. The industry was already becoming more blended, but the crisis has accelerated some of the existing trends. We see hotels and coliving companies entering the sector. We see many companies offering workspaces within their properties, activating their ground floors by inviting locals inside. We are seeing a big focus on community-driven concepts where you don’t just provide rooms but genuinely add to the learning experience. The sector is now evolving at a faster pace into hybrid spaces where people can stay for an hour, or a year or longer, to work, relax, learn and have fun. Pure student-only models are not the way forward - the future is about blending spaces and diverse communities under one roof. It may sound like a bold prediction now, but in 10 years’ time student accommodation won’t exist as we know it today, it will be much more blended.