Students in Exeter

Students in Exeter

 After claiming the much-coveted Sunday Times University of the Year award in 2012, along with The Times and The Sunday Times Sports University of the Year 2015-16, the desirability of studying at the Russell Group University, is growing ten-fold. Why?

From the very first open day I visited, I knew Exeter was the place for me. With its beautiful campus buildings, botanical gardens and the glorious sunshine that was present that day, there was no question in my mind that I wanted to experience my student life here. And I suspect that's true for many of the 20,000 students that the University currently enrols. It also helped that Exeter would be 5 hours away from my home, thus eliminating the possibility for regular weekend visits from my parents.

So, what does this mean for Exeter and the University? With more and more students deciding to attend universities than ever before, and with the cap on student intake being abolished in 2015, many universities across the country, not just Exeter, have seen their student numbers rocket. For example, the number of total students (undergraduate and postgraduate) has increased at the University of Exeter by 24% over the last 5 years, with these sorts of figures being common across the UK.

Generally speaking, you would say that this has a great effect on the local economy. Local bars, supermarkets, high street shops and leisure facilities benefit greatly from the boost in population. As mentioned in last month's article, Universities UK has stated the University of Exeter contributes more than £600 million to the regional economy every year.

What's the flipside to this seemingly wonderful situation? The community. Many local residents in Exeter, and I would imagine in many similar university towns, feel that their town is losing its community spirit. There are many areas in the city where the number of student houses outweighs the permanent residents, with some streets being entirely occupied by students.

A prime example of this is in the St James and Pennsylvania area. With these areas being saturated with student houses, there are many periods of the year where the properties remain empty, and these areas ultimately feeling a bit like ghost towns during these times. As a result, the St James Neighborhood Plan has been created by residents to 'deliver the long-term goal of a balanced and vibrant neighborhood'.[1] The plan includes many goals set out to improve the relationship between the residents of the neighborhood and maps out projects to enhance and develop the community as a whole. This is a positive step made to create a livable environment for all residents - both students and local people.

What's being done to improve the situation? The current resolution to the problem seems to be modern, purpose built student accommodation blocks.

Since I graduated in the summer of 2015, a number of these properties have popped up across the city offering high-end, luxury living for hundreds of students. Some of these buildings include gyms, cinemas, games rooms and private study rooms. Although it's great that more accommodation is being built, many of these rooms start at over £200.00 per week.

I wouldn't be the only student to say that figure is far more than my maintenance loan and accommodation budget would allow. What's more is that despite there being a problem with an overpopulation of students in certain neighborhoods, it's also important not to go too far the other way in building more and more purpose-built student developments, separating residents from students entirely. If the rental prices were to drop, it may be a case of the Exeter student housing market rapidly declining for private landlords.

A similar situation has already started arising in Plymouth where purpose built student accommodation has caused a huge decrease in demand for HMO-type accommodation. Currently, though, the student property market in Exeter is great, with a very high demand for affordable, good quality student living. As mentioned in last month's issue, we've had a constant stream of student groups still unable to find privately rented accommodation for the next academic year. So, if you're a current student landlord or thinking of investing your money into the student market in Exeter, there's certainly the demand for it.

In my opinion, the council and the University need to work together to improve and develop the current housing situation. With Exeter becoming an increasingly important and vibrant part of the South West, the number of students wanting to live and study here will only intensify over the years to come.

Exciting developments in and around the city - Ikea, Skypark and the new Bus Station, to name but a few - are making Exeter a more desirable location for both students and non-students. Getting the balance right between working professionals, families and students will be vital, now more than ever, as Exeter continues to grow and cement itself as a major part of the future of the South West.

If you have any questions or queries about anything discussed in this article, please call our office on 01392 25 44 88 and we'll be happy to help.

[1] Exeter St James Neighborhood Plan March 2013