National HMO Lobby


National HMO

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National HMO Lobby



Representation on
The Future of Higher Education

1 The National HMO Lobby is a national network of almost sixty community groups in nearly forty towns, concerned with concentrations of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). The Lobby has an interest in higher education (HE), since the main driver of HMO concentrations is demand for shared houses by HE students. For this reason, the Lobby is contributing to the Debate on the Future of Higher Education, launched by the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills (DIUS) on 12 November 2008.

2 The Lobby's concerns are not with HE as such - but for the unintended consequences of HE policies. The Lobby welcomes any developments which enable those who wish to do so to improve their own capacities in particular, and their ability to contribute to the social good in general. The Lobby especially welcomes ideas emerging in the current Debate which move away from traditional modes of participation in HE, and which encourage a wider diversity of ways of participating. Credit accumulation & transfer schemes and records of achievement for instance are well worth reviving.

3 The Lobby's particular interest is in the report by Universities UK (UUK) on the Demographic Challenge Facing Our Universities. This identifies three impending phases in the size of the population from which HE traditionally primarily recruits, that is, school-leavers. First of all, until the end of the present decade, we are in a phase of on-going expansion. Then, in the next decade, it is clear that this will be followed by a second phase of contraction, as the number of school-leavers declines: the report projects a reduction in the region of 56,000-91,000 in the number of full-time undergraduates, between 2010 and 2019 (Tables 3 and 4). Finally, in the following decade again, a new phase of expansion is expected. Each of these phases has implications for the context of HE.

4 The current phase of expansion has already been under way for well over a decade. While the original expansion of HE was laudable, it has had profound unforeseen - and detrimental - impacts in society at large. The expansion was undertaken without any consideration for the accommodation of increased numbers of students. Failing institutional provision, the market stepped into the breach - and it has done so overwhelmingly by diverting owner-occupied and socially-rented properties into the private rented sector, to satisfy the student market. This has had two consequences. First of all, at a time of national housing shortage, it has diverted houses away from first homes for families into second homes for students. The shortage has been aggravated. Secondly, following the herd instincts of the market, it has led to intense local concentrations of shared student houses (HMOs). The consequences for local communities are now well documented - by UUK itself in Studentification: a guide to opportunities, challenges and practice (January 2006), by the National HMO Lobby in Balanced Communities & Studentification (March 2008), and most recently, in Evidence Gathering: Housing in Multiple Occupation and possible planning responses (September 2008) commissioned by Communities & Local Government (CLG). In 2002, the phenomenon was christened studentification by academia itself (Dr Darren Smith, on commission from the University of Leeds). All of the publications propose a wide range of ways to tackle the problem, to be taken up by all the agencies concerned.

5 In the forthcoming decade, UUK anticipates steady reduction in the number of school-leavers. This in itself will reduce the demand for student HMOs. In addition, this reduction is likely to be enhanced by other factors. Increased investment in purpose-built accommodation is absorbing some demand for student housing. Potential increases in tuition fees are likely to encourage the trend for students to study from home. And alternative modes of participation in HE are also likely to lessen demand for accommodation. This should have beneficial consequences in two ways. First, it should release increasing numbers of houses from the student second-home market back into the general first-home market. And thereby, it should enable a re-balancing of those areas currently overwhelmed by student houses - a process of de-studentification in fact. However, the process will not be straightforward. The original expansion of student demand led to inflated property prices in areas of studentification, which could be sustained by the intensive levels of occupation (hence, high rental returns) of student houses. The exaggerated investment in student properties by landlords will make it difficult for them, either to find equally lucrative tenants, or to sell back to a lower-priced market. The consequences for housing provision could be unfortunate.

6 The third phase, of renewed demographic increase, from 2020 onwards, raises the prospect of re-studentification. The Lobby hopes that with foresight, and in the light of current experience, and of legislative measures currently proposed, such an undesirable outcome can be avoided.

7 No man, or institution, is an island. We have experienced the unintended consequences of the expansion of HE institutions (HEIs) in the past decade and more. The National HMO Lobby has already contributed to the consultation on the New University Challenge. In the Debate on the Future of HE, the Lobby urges two things: (1) that DIUS, CLG and UUK recognise the phenomenon of unintended consequences in general, and of accommodation impacts (studentification) in particular; and (2) that national authorities and local authorities and individual HEIs take measures to avoid these in the future development of higher education.

National HMO Lobby, November 2008


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