With thousands of students having returned to university for freshers week and taking up residence in halls on and off campus, the news is reporting daily of a rapid increase in covid cases amongst the student population and, consequently, the numbers of people self isolating.

Often labelled as being part of an alternative market, new student accommodation has been coming out the ground fast over the last few years, yet the majority, if not all, of the new properties were designed, planned and built in a pre-covid world. Many of the properties include communal arrangements with, for example, shared kitchen space. With owners of commercial office space and retail premises already well into managing their space for people to come back to, what lessons could be learned for alternatives so as to mitigate potential issues?

Entry

Controlling entry is as good a place as any to start - already there are good examples of temperature checking stations, hand sanitizer and, also, records of movement in and out of buildings being taken. Most schemes have secure entry systems anyway which means these measures are worthwhile and relatively inexpensive governance steps to implement.

Communal areas

Face coverings, again more sanitizer points and, where possible, additional thorough cleaning programmes are likely to feature for the foreseeable future. A query here is whether the communal areas where 6 to 8 students could come together frequently can be cleaned enough to mitigate what could be seen as an obvious hot spot for an increased transmission risk without some additional steps being taken.

Isolation risks

Most people will enjoy the fact that they will have, at the very least these days, their own room with en-suite facilities. Many students, having tested positive already, are self-isolating and, unless mum packed a bumper selection of pot noodles, there will need to be some planning round the logistics for basics of food delivery etc. But on top of that, and bearing in mind, presumably, that students no longer listen to the Smiths with all the teenage angst that might provoke, isolation in a new city or town with classes online could well affect well-being at a time that should be filled with good experiences.

What's next?

The range and quality of student housing now available is, thankfully, light years ahead of scenes from the Young Ones. Nobody planning developments for student schemes one or two years ago could be criticised for including the communal elements which should have been a focus for socialising and making new friends. As Covid impedes the full visceral student experience, the path for further alternative developments may, like many other property classes, feel some shudders yet with the prospect of a gap year abroad and employment feeling remote, student demand should still be there. In the meantime, absent a vaccine, all property owners will be keeping their mitigation strategy in place to stay onside with their insurance and health and safety requirements.

Contributor

Stephen Goldie

Head of Litigation & Partner