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Energy efficiency in student housing: examining students’ residential motives

Efficacité énergétique dans les logements étudiants : examen des motivations résidentielles des étudiants
Alexis Alamel

Résumés

Au cours des deux dernières décennies, le secteur du logement étudiant s'est intensément développé au Royaume-Uni (R-U) dans le but de répondre à la demande croissante initiée par des changements profonds opérés dans l’enseignement supérieur. Il y a eu une diversification des types de logement proposés aux étudiants, en partie liée à l'augmentation du nombre d'étudiants dans les universités britanniques. Cette hausse de la demande des étudiants en matière de logement a conduit les bailleurs et propriétaires de logements à adapter leurs produits. La diversité croissante des choix de logement des étudiants a généré des tensions socio-économiques. Au-delà des disparités socio-économiques, la variété de l'offre de logements pour étudiants a créé des inégalités environnementales. Jusqu'à présent peu explorées dans les débats académiques, les caractéristiques énergétiques des logements des étudiants varient spatialement. Par exemple, les facteurs environnementaux intégrés dans la dynamique entre l'offre et la demande de logements pour étudiants ont été négligés dans la littérature des géographies étudiantes. L'étude des intersections sociales, économiques et environnementales entre l'offre et la demande de logements pour étudiants est au cœur de cette recherche. Sur la base d'une analyse statistique descriptive de données collectées par une enquête en ligne (1 125 réponses), cet article examine la diversité des motifs intégrés dans les choix résidentiels des étudiants et explore les parcours résidentiels des étudiants au prisme de leurs caractéristiques socio-économiques et démographiques. Cet article présente également une typologie et les performances énergétiques des logements occupés par des ménages étudiants dans la ville universitaire de Loughborough (Angleterre). Enfin, l’article démontre que les étudiants ne tiennent que peu compte des critères environnementaux lors de la sélection d'un logement.

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Introduction

1Over the last two decades, student accommodation has been developed intensely in the United Kingdom (UK) to match the growing demand initiated by profound changes regarding the functioning of the higher education (HE) system in order to widen its participation. Since 2000, the number of students enrolled in higher education institutions (HEIs) has risen by 17% to 2,343,275 students for the 2017/18 academic year, equivalent to 2012/13 (HESA, 2018). This growth has posed the pressing question of finding ways to provide accommodation to a thriving student demand.

  • 1 With the double objective of countering local studentification processes and revitalising brownfiel (...)
  • 2 HMOs are defined as a property privately rented and occupied by at least three residents who do not (...)

2In the UK, there have been profuse academic debates devoted to student accommodation (Hubbard, 2008; Munro et al., 2009; Kinton et al., 2018) within the scholarship of ‘student geographies’ (Smith, 2009). As the student demand for housing has intensified, so has the diversification of the types of accommodation that have been supplied to students. The range of student accommodation includes, notably university halls of residence (Uni halls), purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA1), and houses in multiple occupation (HMOs2). While it is estimated that one-third of the student population reside in university halls of residence (NUS, 2019), students have flocked to the private rented sector (PRS), known for consisting of an aged and deteriorated housing stock (MHCLG, 2020). Yet the exponential popularity of HMOs has produced the unfolding of local urban transformations, exemplified by the ‘studentification’ processes of residential neighbourhoods (Sage et al., 2012a). Studentification, coined as the “influx of students within privately-rented accommodation in particular neighbourhoods” (Smith, 2005, p. 73), is now widely featured in academic and media discourses.

3For students, decisive questions of where or with whom to live can shape residential trajectories, arguably a prominent marker in the transition from youth to adulthood (Christie et al., 2002; Holton, 2016). It is, however, pivotal to stress that individuals’ housing needs and preferences are tangled in interplays of constraints, trade-offs, and agreements (Fincher and Shaw, 2009; Holdsworth, 2006). As students’ residential strategies and negotiations with local housing markets are transformed (Kinton et al., 2016 ; Sage et al., 2012b), recent academic works have evidenced the effects of energy inefficient housing among student households in HMOs through the unfolding of fuel poverty issues (Cauvain and Bouzarovski, 2016). Fuel poverty characterises a household/resident that cannot afford to keep adequately warm at a decent cost, given their income. Students in fuel poverty are reported to spend more time away from their accommodation in order to reduce their energy consumption and not to feel cold as well as to use their savings to pay for energy bills (Morris and Genovese, 2018).

4In this context, this paper aims to examine the linkages between the motives embedded in students’ housing decision and the energy efficiency of their dwellings, using the case study of Loughborough (UK). Particularly, by investigating the motives considered in students’ residential choices based on the energy efficiency performance of the different occupied housing types, this paper is critical in advancing further knowledge on energy related impacts in student residential geographies. It shows that dwellings supplied to students are generally of low-quality, which can be conducive to the unfolding of fuel poverty situations.

5The paper is structured as follows: first, the literature of residential mobility and the specificities of the student population as housing choosers is outlined. Second, the energy performances of dwellings in the PRS and the unfolding of fuel poverty related issues are addressed. Third, the case study of Loughborough is presented and the intertwining method of using the online survey with the energy performance certificates (EPCs) of student accommodation is described. Fourth, the results confirm the existence of a student residential pathway and highlight the discrepancies in the housing stock quality, exemplified by the EPC rating of dwellings. Yet students’ residential motives do not always match their preferences, suggesting that, for diverse reasons, students have limited access to high-quality accommodation. This paper concludes with the prevalence of high concentrations of energy inefficient dwellings in popular studentified neighbourhoods and the needs for the scholarship of student geographies to investigate the energy housing relationship further.

Framing students’ housing choices in the literature on residential mobility

6The decision to move into a dwelling is significant in the life of an individual or a household, which is akin to the concept of residential choice. A substantial number of publications have examined residential choices at the individual level (Vasanen, 2012; Wang and Li, 2004) as well as at the household level (Coulter et al., 2012; Booi and Boterman, 2020). Reflecting the implementation of a lifestyle, residential choice balances both the specific residential preferences of individuals (Nijënstein et al., 2015) and the constraints governing this choice (Authier et al., 2010). On one hand, preferences (or aspirations) assemble a sort of ideal set of factors tied to individual life choices, human values, and socio-demographic background (Jansen et al., 2011). By their hypothetical nature, housing preferences are distinguished as stated preferences. They are both heterogeneous and evolving over an individual’s life course (e.g. moving in with partner, transition to parenthood, etc.) (Kooiman, 2020). Indeed, an improvement in living environment quality can result in a revaluation of the stated preferences (Rérat, 2010). On the other hand, the revealed preferences refer to the observed housing behaviour of the individual or household, considering their needs and preferences “within a choice set determined by household resources and restrictions and housing market opportunities and constraints” (Van Ham, 2012: 47). Hence, numerous constraints (e.g. location of housing in a given residential context, lack of affordable and available housing, etc.) can impede on the decision to change accommodation as well as induce a reconsideration of the stated preferences in adjusting them to the housing market realities (Mulder, 2009).

7Within the scholarship on residential mobility, young adults have emerged as a prominent social cohort to investigate (Ford et al., 2002). Particularly, due to the intensification of highly skilled labour markets and the massification of higher education, the growing presence of students (and its effects) in inner cities has been recounted internationally (Bromley, 2006; Fincher and Shaw, 2009). In the UK, the number of students enrolled in HEIs grew by 22.4% between 2000/01 and 2018/2019 whereas, the UK population rose by 12.8%, comparatively. Therefore, on-campus housing does not have the capacity to provide bedspaces to all students. The growing student demand is mainly oriented towards the private rented sector (PRS). Students have increasingly moved into terraced houses physically and administratively converted into HMOs (Hubbard, 2008). The shift of students’ distribution into the PRS may indicate that institution maintained accommodation is no longer the first residential choice for the majority of students. The variation of students’ residential expectations has coincided with unfolding processes of studentification, observed in some areas in British university towns and cities such as Loughborough (Kinton et al., 2018), Newcastle (Ruiu, 2017), and Brighton (Sage et al., 2012b).

8Epitomising the recent evolutions of the British student housing market (Hubbard, 2009), the emergence of PBSA from the mid-2000s espoused the local mechanisms implemented to scatter students away from studentified areas (Smith and Hubbard, 2014). These privately managed modern developments contribute to the participation in the revitalisation of brownfield spaces, although the off-campus location of PBSA has become a strategic commodification argument (Chatterton, 2010). Grasped as the ‘second wave’ of studentification, PBSA respond to a strong and distinct demand from those occupying HMOs (Sage et al., 2012a). High specifications, such as swipe card access, CCTV, Wi-fi connection, vending machines, launderettes, and bike sheds, are some of the standard conditions provided in these new student blocks (Hubbard, 2009). In addition, the competitiveness of the student housing market is manifest through the popularity of the first come, first serve basis. Indeed, the National Union of Students’ (NUS) report (2019) suggests that 57% of students living in the PRS started to look for their new housing by December of the previous year.

9Although students’ housing career is characterised by its short temporality, the unfolding of a student residential pathway in the UK has been clearly demonstrated in the literature (Smith and Holt, 2007). It is strongly recognised that most new entrants to university, or freshers, reside in halls of residence on campus, which are perceived as the best introduction to adulthood and the ideal preparatory stage before immersing into the PRS (Rugg et al., 2004). The creation of social cohesion and shaping of an individual lifestyle compose the prevailing apparatus in living on-campus, especially for freshers (Holton, 2016). Afterwards, in their second or third year of undergraduate studies, most students move into HMOs. To them, the possibility to live with friends and the degrees of autonomy and freedom are crucial factors in their housing decision (Bromley, 2006; Munro and Livingston, 2011). Hence, the production of social relations through the housing setting is pivotal in the constitution of student residential pathway, accentuated by the development of studentification processes in local neighbourhoods.

  • 3 Since 2012, new full-time university entrants may have to pay up to £ 9,000 per annum. However, som (...)

10Economic capital emerges as a critical demarcating factor in students’ housing choice. As noted by Christie et al. (2001) and Hubbard (2009), different strategies are developed by students in order to financially secure the housing they desire. Because of the significant cost of studying in a HEI in the UK3 and the increased living expenses (e.g. housing, groceries, leisure activities, utility bills, etc.), students generally rely on various income sources. The three main income categories are: state support (i.e. student loans, maintenance grant/special support grant), family and friends (e.g. financial contributions from parents and other relatives), and paid work (i.e. earnings from a permanent/continuous job). State-funded support is the main source of students’ income, accounting for 67% (DfE, 2018).

11Furthermore, parental financial support appears to be significant during their adult childrens’ studies (Heath and Calvert, 2013) as well as afterwards (Sage et al., 2013). Christie et al. (2001, 2002) asserted that parental financial support was necessary to students for sustaining an appropriate lifestyle and for ensuring that housing costs were met. Parents can also act as guarantors for their children, which is a regular requirement from landlords renting to students. Yet, according to the NUS’survey (2019), parents do not have a significant influence on when their children should start looking for an accommodation for the following year.

12While the scholarship of student geographies gives prominence to issues such as studentification processes (Alamel, 2018), a vast research field tied to the quality and the energy efficiency of student accommodation can be expanded upon.

The energy efficiency of dwellings: an indicator of underlying fuel poverty problems in student housing

13The literature has espoused that the built environment accounts for a significant proportion of the total UK energy consumption (Kelly, 2010). The residential sector is responsible for 29% of the total energy consumption in the UK, second only to the transport sector (40%) (BEIS, 2019). Particularly, space heating is responsible for 66% of the final energy consumption in the residential sector (IEA, 2020), which is the most responsive to temperature changes. In addition, the ageing of UK housing, notably in England, raises the question of the energy performances of buildings, as older dwellings tend to consume more energy (Kelly, 2010). The English Housing Survey (EHS) reported that 22% of dwellings in the PRS were built prior to 1919, 58% before 1965 (DCLG, 2014). The UK government has implemented environmental policies and schemes aimed at upgrading housing energy performance and, consequently, mitigating greenhouse gases (GHG). To reach this goal, the pivotal role played by energy efficiency has been broadly recognised in the literature (Kelly, 2011; Subramanyam et al., 2017).

14The International Energy Agency (IEA) defines energy efficiency as “a way of managing and restraining the growth in energy consumption”. Energy efficiency relies on the principle of an efficient and economical use of energy to provide the same level of energy, if not better, than the technologies already in place (Shove, 2018). According to the IEA (2020), “energy efficiency has tremendous potential to boost economic growth and avoid GHG emissions”. In the building sector, the various benefits brought by energy efficiency requirements include the reduction of energy imports and the lowering of energy demand, and, subsequently, the cost for households (Elsharkawy and Rutherford, 2018).

  • 4 DIRECTIVE 2002/91/EC of 16 December 2002 on the energy performance of buildings. European Parliamen (...)

15Committing to the European Union’s directive4 to promote energy performance improvements in buildings, the UK government instituted its own methodology for assessing and comparing the energy and environmental performances of dwellings. The Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP), which was revised in 2009, takes into account a wide range of factors and indicators contributing to energy efficiency, such as total floor area, construction materials, thermal insulation of building fabric, and energy costs associated with space heating, water heating, ventilation and lighting (BRE, 2011). The SAP rating (or index) is graduated on a scale of 1 to 100 as well as translated in bands from A (92-100), the most efficient building, to G (1-20), the least efficient. These data are embedded in an environment performance certificate (EPC), which has been required since 2008 whenever a dwelling is built, rented, or sold. Valid for ten years, an EPC also features relevant information regarding the energy performance of the property, the level of CO2 emitted, the running energy costs, and recommendations to improve the energy efficiency of the dwelling.

16The utility of an EPC was proven to not incentivise homeowners in energy retrofit practices (Christensen et al., 2014), despite its informative role on the actual and potential energy performances of a dwelling. Additionally, Watts et al. (2011) asserted that EPCs have a rather limited influence in the decision-making process in the case of housing purchase and had an undetermined impact on the value of a dwelling. The cost of an EPC, which can vary greatly depending on the dwelling location, size, and registering of energy assessor, starts from £ 60. This can deter homeowners to reassess the energy performance of their property if the improvements are deemed modest (e.g. replacing traditional incandescent light bulbs with energy efficient ones). Hence, despite the potentiality of being outdated or imprecise, the EPC remains a robust indicator of how energy (in)efficient a housing is and can greatly contribute to identifying households being in fuel poverty, including student households.

17Fuel poverty is a multifactorial phenomenon consisting of households being unable to afford energy costs required to heat their homes to adequate internal temperatures. The key factors associated with fuel poverty are low housing quality (particularly the energy efficiency of the dwelling), cost of energy, and household income. According to the UK government, 10.3% of English households (approximately 2.40 million) lived in fuel poverty in 2018 (BEIS, 2020). It has been stressed that fuel poverty indicators are unsuitable to the evaluation of students being in fuel poverty due to their temporary residential situations (Baker et al., 2003). Yet some research suggests that there is an underlying fuel poverty issue amongst students living in low-quality HMOs (Morris and Genovese, 2018; Petrova, 2018). Thus, beyond the unadapted measurement of fuel poverty within student populations, the paucity of data about the energy efficiency of students’ housing constitutes a hindrance in considering this problem.

Methodology

Loughborough, the student town par excellence

  • 5 The Golden Triangle naming was first introduced by landlords and the numerous letting agencies in t (...)

18An East-Midlands university town of 63,000 inhabitants, Loughborough, differentiates itself from the UK HE context. For instance, the 2 % decrease of student numbers at Loughborough University (LU) between 2009/10 and 2013/14 has been four times lower than the national level. Approximately 25 % of the total town population is comprised of students. The presence of students in Loughborough is deemed visible and important. First, Hubbard (2008) reflects on the noteworthy economic benefits at the local level caused by the presence of the institution. Notably, student basic expenditure (i.e. housing, food, drink, and services) are estimated to support several hundreds of jobs for the town. Second, using 2001 Census data, Hubbard (ibid.) ranks the Storer ward of Loughborough as the 8th most studentified ward in England and Wales. This ranking indicates that significant studentification processes in the town have been unfolding in Loughborough for a relatively long period. These are particularly visible in the monikered ‘Golden Triangle5’ in Loughborough, covering the Storer and Burleigh areas, which have become popular for housing a substantial number of students.

19Hubbard (2009) also emphasises the ‘strong sporting culture’ at LU and the need for students to live near the sport facilities as a significant motive in students’ residential decision-making processes. Students are offered the choice of 16 halls of residence, of which 7 are catered and 9 are self-catered. Amongst the self-catered halls, 3 are managed by service providers that have a partnership with the university. Overall, about 5,000 students live on-campus. Lastly, the segmentation of Loughborough’s student housing and the social transformations associated to it have been intensely researched through investigations about processes of (de)studentification (Kinton et al., 2016, 2018), as well as the continued growth of PBSA off-campus (Hubbard, 2009). This attention has made Loughborough a very unique case study for gaining better insights into the urban changes tied to students’ presence in town.

The Loughborough Students Accommodation Survey (LSAS)

20The data presented in this paper was collected through an online survey, launched during the academic year 2012/13, entitled the Loughborough Students Accommodation Survey (LSAS), which was created, using Bristol Online Survey (BOS) (now known as Online Surveys). Employed in similar student-based research (Holdsworth, 2006; Thomsen and Eikemo, 2010), the implementation of an online survey can cover a large population (e.g. university students), to obtain data at high-speed and collect direct data entry facilitating its analysis. Furthermore, the survey contributed in answering the research questions by asking students about their residential situations, their housing preferences, the importance of motives considered in their housing decisions, and their environmental aspirations. Moreover, personal information such as their addresses were crucial in identifying their dwelling types and their energy performances.

21The survey was composed of 49 questions in various formats: close-ended (e.g. dichotomous and multiple-choice questions, and the Likert response scale) and open-ended questions (i.e. to specify a response). The questions had to do with students’ housing context, residential motives, financial conditions, environmental aspirations, and social interactions. This survey was endorsed by the Loughborough Students Union, which was responsible to distribute the survey to the 15,460 students enrolled at the institution. 1,125 questionnaires were filled out by LU students, of which 851 were fully completed, accounting for 7 % of the total student population. 660 participants were identified with their exact year of study. Amongst the participants identified by their year of study, 21% were 1st year undergraduates (UG Year 1), 25% 2nd year undergraduates (UG Year 2), 25% in their 3rd year and higher of undergraduate studies (UG Year 3+), 10% in postgraduate taught courses (Masters), and 15% postgraduate research students (PhD). Students in the schools/faculties of ‘Social, Political and Geographical Sciences’ (n= 127), ‘Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences’ (n= 87), and ‘Business and Economics’ (n= 78) were the most represented in the survey. The characteristics of the LSAS’ participants are presented in table 1. The respondents surveyed are 51% male. This is an underrepresentation of the male student cohort, which accounts for about two-thirds of students enrolled at LU.

Collecting Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs)

22The EPC rating of dwellings occupied by students were collected by obtaining students’ addresses. The data was retrieved from the Domestic Energy performance Certificate Register’s website6 and originated from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The EPCs were useful in revealing vital information, such as the type, size, and overall energy performance of the dwellings. In case of incomplete addresses (e.g. only the postcode or the street name), EPCs for the whole street or postcode7 were downloaded and the SAP’s average score was designated as the approved rating of the student’s accommodation. In total, 407 EPCs were retrieved.

Typology of student dwellings

23Cross-referencing the data collected from the LSAS and the EPCs allowed the development of a student dwellings’ typology, which excludes Uni halls. Indeed, because an EPC is only required for a self-contained dwelling, meaning that it does not contain shared amenities such as a bathroom or a kitchen with any other dwellings, university halls of residence were exempted. Consequently, this building type is excluded from the typology. Most of the residential buildings in the survey were classified according to their definition specified in the English Housing Survey (EHS) (MHCLG, 2020):

  • End-terrace (E-T) house is a house attached to one other house only in a block where at least one house is attached to two or more other houses.

  • Mid-terrace (M-T) house is a house attached to two other houses in a block.

  • Semi-detached (S-D) house consists of a house that is attached to just one other in a block of two.

  • Detached (D) house is a house where none of the habitable structure is joined to another building (other than garages, outhouses, etc.).

  • Bungalow (B) consists of a house with all of the habitable accommodation on one floor. This excludes chalet bungalows and bungalows with habitable loft conversions, which are treated as houses.

  • Purpose built student accommodation (PBSA) generally designates a block of student flats built by private commercial providers in inner-city center.

Table 1: Characteristics of LSAS’ respondents

Characteristics

Total valid respondents

Current living situation

Preferred living situation for the following year

Uni halls

PRS

Parental/Guardian

Other

Uni halls

PRS

Parental/Guardian

Other

Don't know

All respondents (with year of study)

All

660

241

378

18

24

117

423

13

49

58

Gender

Male

338

129

194

6

9

63

215

4

25

31

Female

322

112

184

12

15

54

208

9

24

27

Age

18-21

420

190

216

12

2

84

286

7

19

24

22-25

139

34

98

4

3

25

84

3

10

17

26-29

49

8

37

2

2

1

32

1

3

12

30-33

18

3

13

0

2

2

10

2

3

1

34 and more

30

4

12

0

14

3

9

0

14

4

Level of study

1st year undergraduate

140

132

7

1

0

52

87

0

0

1

2nd year undergraduate

165

54

106

2

3

22

123

4

7

9

3rd year undergraduate and higher

184

12

156

12

4

22

115

7

22

18

Masters

69

31

34

1

3

13

33

0

4

19

PhD

102

12

75

2

14

8

65

2

16

11

Citizenship

UK

511

193

281

18

19

91

330

11

42

37

non-UK

149

48

97

0

4

26

93

2

7

21

Average Length (in month) in current housing

Less than 6 months

12

3

9

0

0

-

-

-

-

-

6 months to 12 months

550

221

315

6

8

-

-

-

-

-

13 months to 24 months

36

4

32

0

0

-

-

-

-

-

25 months and more

14

1

12

0

1

-

-

-

-

-

Exploring students’ residential pathway in Loughborough

24Prior to the emergence of student geographies in the late-2000s, research examining the relationship between transition to adulthood and student housing were relatively scarce (Holdsworth, 2006). The individuals’ age and year of study, which are strongly correlated, constitute the initialise student residential pathways (Hubbard, 2009). The results presented in table 1 are reflective of students’ housing trajectories as described in the literature (Ford et al., 2002; Holdsworth, 2006), which implies the progressive residential shift from university owned/maintained accommodation to HMOs amongst undergraduate students. Our study shows that 94% of freshers (i.e. UG Year 1 candidates) reside in university halls of residence, mostly on campus. According to Christie et al. (2002, p. 314), the presence of freshers on campus is nurtured by HEIs:

25“Many universities seek to make available places in halls of residences or other university-controlled accommodation, particularly for young, 1st-year students.”

26No exception to this housing policy strategy, LU guarantees to provide bedspaces for all new UG Year 1 students. Undeniably, this partakes in attracting freshers to one of the 16 university halls of residence. The ‘hall experience’ defines the spirit of a residential entre-soi in which steps towards adulthood can be learned and accomplished collectively. Opportunities to move from campus to the PRS emerge essentially by the end of the first or second year (Rugg et al., 2004). 62% of UG Year 1 students stated their preference to move to the PRS the following year, whilst 37% indicated that they would rather stay in Uni halls. Furthermore, the decline of UG Year 2 and Year 3+ cohorts in Uni halls, with respectively 33% and 6% of students, to the profit of the PRS, confirms the production of the traditional student pathway coupled with the ritual nature of living in Uni halls for the new HE entrants.

27The literature has noted that living with friends and the degree of autonomy and freedom are crucial factors in their housing selection (Munro and Livingston, 2011). The quality of relationships and friendships established by a fresher with his/her peers has proven to be momentous in students’ housing trajectories (Smith and Holt, 2007). 94% of UG Year 2 students who moved from Uni Halls to the PRS cited that living with friends was either ‘very important’ or ‘fairly important’. This variable is as equally decisive as to living in proximity to campus in their housing choice. Thus, friendships stand out to be powerful leverage that can concurrently provoke students to move into the PRS or to retain them in halls of residence for an additional year.

  • 8 The length of a Masters’ degree delivered by a UK HEI is usually one year, compared to, generally, (...)

28Amongst postgraduate students, table 1 shows that the share of Masters students in Uni Halls is significant (45%) compared to those of PhD candidates (12%). Unlike the undergraduate population, which mainly consists of UK citizens (88%), the share of international individuals (i.e. non-UK citizens) is significant amongst the postgraduate cohort, representing respectively 63% of Masters students8 and 48% of PhD candidates. For the former, the abundant supply of on-campus bedspaces available attract them to Uni Halls. The latter are extensively present in the PRS, including 23% in PBSA. The length of doctoral study programmes (usually from 3 to 5 years) provides PhD students with more time and opportunity to become familiar with the accommodation supply. It should also be stressed that 14% of PhD candidates are homeowners.

29Thus, it has been recognised that students, overall, follow a residential pathway in accordance to their year of study. In particular, Smith and Holt (2007) and Hubbard (2009) have emphasised that the age/year of study are salient components in students’ housing spatiality, nurtured by a diversity of residential motives which reflect lifestyles and identities (Smith and Hubbard, 2014). The energy performance characteristics of student accommodation in the PRS are examined in the following section.

The magnitude and spatiality of students’ energy (in)efficient dwellings

30This section scrutinises the energy performances of dwellings occupied by LU students. In the PRS, students are distributed as follows: 45% live in a mid-terraced house (n= 179), 22% in semi-detached property (n= 87), 12% in a purpose built student accommodation (n= 49), 10% in an end-terraced house (n= 38), 7% in a detached dwelling (n= 29), and 4% in a bungalow (n= 14).

The energy performances of dwellings occupied by LU students in the PRS

31Figure 1 highlights the breakdown of the energy performances of the dwellings occupied by students in the PRS. The first observation to make relates to the limited presence of SAP bands A to C in most dwelling types; except for detached properties and PBSA. Consequently, the less energy efficient classes that are bands from D to G prevail in the other houses. Characterising the student HMOs, terraced houses are also known for often being of restricted quality (Petrova, 2018). From figure 1, nearly half of the densely occupied mid-terraced properties are rated band E, and 13% of end-terraced houses are rated F. The former averages a SAP score of 53 (SD= 12), the lowest of all dwelling types listed. End-terraced buildings have an average SAP score of 54 (SD= 14). This suggests that these dwellings are poorly insulated, sometimes with inefficient heating systems, and are more likely to lead to significant energy expenditure. The English Housing Survey (2020) generally identifies the less energy efficient dwellings as the oldest. In our survey, a significant share of dwellings rated from bands E to G were built before 1919.

32Amongst the 407 students for whom the EPC has been retrieved, half reside in a dwelling built before 1919, 20% live in an accommodation built between 1919 and 1980, and 16% occupy a dwelling built after 1995. The analysis of our survey confirms that the housing construction period is a noteworthy predictor for the energy efficiency of a dwelling (r²= .38; p < 0,05). The dwelling cannot solely predict the SAP rating of a dwelling, mainly because improvements can be made to the house such as providing better insulation through windows or walls.

Figure 1: SAP rating bands by dwelling types occupied by survey respondents

Figure 1: SAP rating bands by dwelling types occupied by survey respondents

Source: Author, 2015, from the LSAS

33Detached and semi-detached dwellings are characterised diversely: band C qualifies 42% of detached houses and 16% of semi-detached properties. Inversely, the proportion of dwellings assessed band D is more significant amongst semi-detached houses (45%) than in detached buildings (24%). The average SAP score for semi-detached housing is 57 (SD= 11) and 62 (SD= 12) for detached habitations. With 57% of its population comprised within dwellings rated bands A and C, PBSA has the highest mean score 68 (SD=14). Most of the PBSA were built from the 2000s to the early 2010s, making them more energy efficient due to the implementations of recent construction techniques and regulations.

34Thus, the extensive provision of energy inefficient housing in Loughborough’s PRS does not create many opportunities for residents to live in high quality accommodation. 42% (n= 172) of the surveyed students reside in dwellings rated from bands E to G. The energy characteristics of these accommodation are also more conducive of fuel poverty issues. The NUS (2019) reported on the widespread issues encountered by a significant proportion of students living in the PRS such as excessive condensation, dampness and mould on walls, and draughty windows and doors. Furthermore, students’ poor housing condition tied to an old building stock in the PRS and the unfolding of fuel poverty problems have been observed in several UK cities such as Sheffield (Morris and Genovese, 2018) and Birmingham (Petrova, 2018).

The geography of student housing energy performance

35Throughout the university town, properties with high and low energy ratings are unequally distributed. Figure 2 shows that in studentified areas such as the Golden Triangle, dwellings are often rated bands E and F. The presence of housing assessed band C and above is scarce, which indicates that most students reside in low-energy efficient buildings in these areas. Properties rated bands C and B are spread out in various parts of town such as in the Southfields’ ward near LU campus, the eastern part of the town, as well as in the outskirts of Loughborough. A concentration of accommodation rated band D is also distinguishable in the vicinity of campus. Notwithstanding the geographical distribution of low-energy efficient dwellings is heterogeneous. Studentified streets within the Golden Triangle area are mainly compounded of energy inefficient accommodation.

Figure 2: Spatial distribution of student housing by energy performance rating

Figure 2: Spatial distribution of student housing by energy performance rating

Source: Author, 2015, from the LSAS

36Finally, the limited impact of monthly housing price also applies to the energy performance of the dwelling. The assumption that properties with an expensive rent cost meet the most stringent sustainability requirements, epitomised by a high SAP score, was rejected. The absence of statistical significant relationship between the two variables emphasises that residents in buildings rated with a SAP score of 80 have similar rent expenses to individuals living in properties with a SAP rating of 40. Besides, it reinforces the structural inequalities persisting in the student residential market. Consequently, they could lead HMO landlords, particularly in studentified areas such as the Golden Triangle in Loughborough, to disregard the retrofitting of their properties, as profits earned through the rent are very limited.

Unpacking students’ residential motives by the energy performance rating of their dwelling

37Using a Likert scale, survey’s participants were asked to rate the importance of 14 motives from ‘not at all important’ (graded as ‘1’) to ‘very important’ (graded as ‘5’) of various attributes considered in their decision to reside in their current accommodation. These 14 motives were then encapsulated in 5 main categories:

  • Location attributes : proximity to campus, proximity to city centre, proximity to leisure/fitness activities.

  • Economic attributes : cost of housing, energy/utility bills included in the rent cost.

  • Social attributes : desire of living independently, living with friends.

  • Housing tenure attributes : good housing condition/quality, the availability date of the housing, the rental contract length.

  • Neighbourhood appeal : visual appeal/aesthetic of the area, safety/low crime of the area. facilities of area (pubs, shops, etc.), parking availability.

38The NUS (2019) noted that the most important residential criteria for prospective students in the PRS are the cost of rent, the location and convenience, and the property condition. Our study demonstrates that whether they reside in an energy efficient or inefficient dwelling, students highly considered the housing condition/quality in their residential choice. 91% of the students (n= 361) reported it to be either ‘important’ or ‘very important’. This motive is often considered the most valued. Yet discrepancies are observed through the energy efficiency bands. For instance, 92% of residents in housing rated band E deemed the housing condition/quality to be ‘very important’ or ‘fairly important’ in their housing selection. Nonetheless, the dwellings they occupy are amongst the least energy efficient, and often times, the most ill-kept. Furthermore, our analysis shows that the respondents who strongly valued the housing condition/quality in their residential motivations occupy dwellings with similar energy performance ratings than the respondents that neglected this motive. Similarly, knowing what an EPC is and what it entails did not seem to influence students’ residential choices.

Table 2: Importance of categories’ variables in housing decision by dwellings’ energy performance band

Not at all important

Not so important

Neutral

Fairly important

Very important

Mean

Location

Band B

1 (8 %)

2 (25 %)

2 (21 %)

2 (21 %)

2 (25 %)

3,3

Band C

3 (4 %)

14 (18 %)

14 (19 %)

29 (38 %)

16 (21 %)

3,5

Band D

5 (4 %)

20 (15 %)

24 (19 %)

56 (43 %)

24 (19 %)

3,6

Band E

9 (6 %)

15 (10 %)

21 (14 %)

69 (46 %)

34 (23 %)

3,7

Band F

1 (3 %)

3 (9 %)

6 (20 %)

13 (46 %)

6 (22 %)

3,7

Economic

Band B

1 (7 %)

1 (7 %)

1 (14 %)

4 (50 %)

2 (21 %)

3,7

Band C

1 (1 %)

12 (15 %)

9 (11 %)

28 (37 %)

27 (36 %)

3,9

Band D

3 (2 %)

10 (7 %)

22 (17 %)

39 (30 %)

55 (43 %)

4,0

Band E

4 (2 %)

13 (9 %)

21 (14 %)

48 (32 %)

63 (43 %)

4,0

Band F

1 (2 %)

4 (12 %)

5 (16 %)

9 (29 %)

12 (41 %)

4,0

Social

Band B

0

3 (40 %)

0

2 (27 %)

3 (33 %)

3,5

Band C

2 (3 %)

6 (7 %)

13 (17 %)

30 (40 %)

24 (32 %)

3,9

Band D

3 (2 %)

11 (8 %)

21 (16 %)

42 (33 %)

51 (40 %)

4,0

Band E

5 (3 %)

12 (8 %)

25 (17 %)

49 (33 %)

57 (39 %)

4,0

Band F

1 (3 %)

1 (3 %)

5 (15 %)

9 (30 %)

15 (48 %)

4,2

Housing Tenure

Band B

0

1 (10 %)

1 (10 %)

4 (51 %)

2 (28 %)

4,0

Band C

1 (1 %)

7 (9 %)

10 (13 %)

34 (44 %)

26 (34 %)

4,0

Band D

3 (2 %)

11 (9 %)

28 (22 %)

49 (38 %)

39 (30 %)

3,9

Band E

2 (2 %)

13 (9 %)

28 (18 %)

64 (43 %)

42 (28 %)

3,9

Band F

1 (2 %)

3 (10 %)

7 (24 %)

11 (37 %)

8 (27 %)

3,8

Neighborhood Appeal

Band B

0

1 (15 %)

3 (34 %)

3 (36 %)

1 (15 %)

3,5

Band C

6 (7 %)

14 (18 %)

16 (20 %)

30 (38 %)

12 (16 %)

3,4

Band D

11 (9 %)

20 (16 %)

33 (26 %)

43 (33 %)

20 (16 %)

3,3

Band E

14 (9 %)

23 (16 %)

42 (28 %)

53 (36 %)

18 (12 %)

3,3

Band F

3 (10 %)

4 (12 %)

8 (28 %)

12 (40 %)

3 (10 %)

3,3

39The cost of housing is also a major criterion in students’ housing decisions. 86% of the students (n= 344) considered it to be either ‘important’ or ‘very important’. This finding is consistent with the one presented in Morris and Genovese’s study (2018). However, and unlike the housing condition/quality attribute discussed above, the importance of the accommodation cost grows as the dwelling’ energy efficiency rating diminishes, as 90% of band F residents deemed this attribute to be either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ (84% for occupants of band C housing). With an average monthly cost of £ 290, accommodation rated band F are the cheapest housing observed in our survey.

40Another key finding relates to the increasing importance of social motives as the energy performance rating of the dwelling declines. This is particularly visible for the desire of living with friends: 50% and 70% of residents of accommodation, respectively rated bands E and F, deemed this motive as ‘very important’ in their housing decision. Social criteria of students living in band F properties have an average rating of 4.2, which is the highest mean of all residential motive categories for the entire cohort. It is also pertinent to stress that the average household size is the greatest for bands E, D, and F, respectively. This could then suggest that for occupants of low-rated energy efficient accommodation, choosing who to live with appears to be as important, if not more important, as deciding on a dwelling for its various attributes (size, cost, quality, etc.). Thus, it appears that the low-condition of housing can, somehow, be overcome by living with friends.

Conclusion

41This paper aims to examine the linkages between the motives assessed by students in their accommodation choices and the energy efficiency of the housing in which they live. Using the case study of the university-town of Loughborough, the findings presented in this research provide diverse and significant contributions to both the literatures on student geographies and energy precarity.

42First, widely recognised in the student geographies’ scholarship (Ford et al., 2002), this research has demonstrated that LU students follow a residential pathway. If living in halls of residence appears to be the sine qua non for freshers (94% live in Uni halls), the shift to the PRS occurs in their second and/or third year of undergraduate studies. This move is highly motivated by the opportunity to live with friends (usually resulting from influential social interactions produced in halls of residence), and the possibility to live near campus and ‘experiencing residency in a house’ (Smith and Holt, 2007). These findings illustrate the uniqueness of the motives imbricated in students’ housing choice.

43Second, the paper originally breaks down students’ residential distribution according to the type and energy efficiency of the dwelling they occupy. It is outlined that student accommodation in Loughborough’s PRS hold severe inequalities regarding the energy performance of the housing stock. On one hand, terraced houses, commonly built pre-1919, accommodate over half of the survey’s participants. A hallmark of HMOs, and incidentally of studentification processes, this dwelling type is often of restricted quality. Indeed, mid- and end-terraced houses average an SAP score of 53, well below the national average (59) (DCLG, 2014). On the other hand, newly built developments such as PBSA benefit from the highest EPC rating (average of 68) but seem less favoured by students. Spatially, we observe that low-energy efficiency housing are mainly located in the studentified wards of Storer and Southfields, whilst dwellings rated bands C and above are more scattered throughout Loughborough’s neighbourhoods.

44Third, the absence of a significant correlation between the housing rental cost and the dwellings’ energy performance is a meaningful finding. For example, the absence of this relationship can benefit students willing to live in properties with a high SAP rating (e.g. Band B) while paying the same rent cost as inadequately maintained buildings (e.g. Band F). This result is surprising as our study shows that 86% of respondents stated that the housing cost was deemed ‘important’ or ‘very important’ in their housing choice. Additionally, the fact that this residential factor was more considered amongst occupants of energy inefficient dwellings rather than for those living in dwellings rated band C and above reflects the intricacy of students’ housing choices within the housing market in regard to access to high quality accommodation.

45Fourth, new evidence has highlighted several incompatibilities between the accommodation provided to students and what they actually prefer. These disparities were apparent when comparing the importance of residential motives with the energy efficiency rating of their dwelling. For instance, the housing condition/quality were considered almost equally as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ for students living in properties rated band E than for respondents residing in band C dwellings. Moreover, it arose that deciding one’s flatmates is equally as decisive as choosing a location. This finding concurs with the assertions made by Christie et al. (2002) on the role of friendship as a trigger for moving. This finding also suggests that selecting an accommodation with co-residents becomes a collective decision encompassing trade-offs and agreements rather than individual aspirations. Therefore, educational spaces and experiences should not only be restrained as platforms for young people to become ‘apprentice migrants’ (Smith et al., 2014), but also as rudimentary stages for ‘apprentice residents’.

46Finally, by revealing the magnitude of energy inefficient dwellings in the PRS, this paper touches on the fuel poverty issues unfolding in the context of studentification processes. It contributes to salient debates on the remaining challenges of targeting vulnerable groups, such as students, in fuel poverty policies (Cauvain and Bouzarovski, 2016; Petrova, 2018; Morris and Genovese, 2018). Consequently, this article insists on the necessity to grapple with the issues of students’ poor housing conditions in Loughborough, in the UK, and elsewhere.

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Notes

1 With the double objective of countering local studentification processes and revitalising brownfields in cities’ centre, PBSA have been targeted by private developers towards the most-affluent students as is evident from the high rent costs, the ‘luxurious’ amenities and comfort supplied to the residents (Hubbard, 2009).

2 HMOs are defined as a property privately rented and occupied by at least three residents who do not form a single household, and who share facilities (e.g. the kitchen, the bathroom, etc.).

3 Since 2012, new full-time university entrants may have to pay up to £ 9,000 per annum. However, some exceptions do exist such as the exemption of tuition fees for Scottish students attending HE in Scotland.

4 DIRECTIVE 2002/91/EC of 16 December 2002 on the energy performance of buildings. European Parliament and Council.

5 The Golden Triangle naming was first introduced by landlords and the numerous letting agencies in town specialised in the conversion of ‘family’ properties to student HMOs. Since then, this label has become a marketing tool, a token of attraction (for want of quality) for, primarily, second and final year undergraduate students.

6 https://www.epcregister.com/

7 In the UK, a postcode unit comprises a district formed of a street or even sometimes just one side of the street, which was often the case for the postcodes distribution in Loughborough.

8 The length of a Masters’ degree delivered by a UK HEI is usually one year, compared to, generally, 2 years abroad, which appeals to a great number of international students.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: SAP rating bands by dwelling types occupied by survey respondents
Crédits Source: Author, 2015, from the LSAS
URL http://journals.openedition.org/geocarrefour/docannexe/image/16616/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 20k
Titre Figure 2: Spatial distribution of student housing by energy performance rating
Crédits Source: Author, 2015, from the LSAS
URL http://journals.openedition.org/geocarrefour/docannexe/image/16616/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 185k
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Alexis Alamel, « Energy efficiency in student housing: examining students’ residential motives », Géocarrefour [En ligne], 95/4 | 2021, mis en ligne le 15 janvier 2021, consulté le 09 mars 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/geocarrefour/16616 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/geocarrefour.16616

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Alexis Alamel

Université de Lille, Laboratoire Territoires, Villes, Environnement & Société (TVES) UR 4477, UFR de Géographie et Aménagement, Avenue Paul Langevin, 59655 Villeneuve d'Ascq Cedex alexis.alamel@univ-lille.fr

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