The Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) sector continues to evolve rapidly, yet consistently maintains high-class services in an environment where student well-being, affordability and access to technology are paramount. These awards show just how adaptable and resilient the industry has been over the past 18 months. The awards will be pivotal in rewarding those who have made the most significant impact.

Looking towards 2022, at the rate the industry is moving, the next step will be a smart campus. Smart campus is an emerging trend that allows educational institutions to combine smart technologies with physical infrastructure for improved services, decision-making and campus sustainability.

One area that stands out the most for us has been the fast implementation of blended and hybrid learning. Despite the deployment of increasingly robust technology, professionals still felt compelled to arrive at work, in an office, on time. The classic student experience; lectures, seminars and tutor support were held on a university campus. Now, everyone is inexorably moving towards online working and online learning experiences. We are in the grip of fundamental technological disruption driven by a generational shift that would have taken years without lockdown. Instead, this shift has had to develop at an exponential rate in, and the PBSA sector has evolved just as much as any other.

There’s no doubt that the digital divide is widening. The pandemic has also made it clear that too many young people do not have adequate internet access. One-third of young people do not have any internet access at all and that for many more, the quality of connection negatively impacts the student experience. Yet the pursuit of higher education should be the mobiliser to address the digital divide, especially amongst younger generations. At the start of the academic year 2020/21, many students chose to live in university accommodation. The remaining student population lived in PBSAs or were sharing houses of multiple occupation (HMOs).

For all of these groups, the “interconnectedness” between accommodation and the university is only as good as the internet speeds at each location. Some will have instant access to online lectures, others will not. Some will find it easy to access university applications and resources from their bedroom, whereas others will struggle to upload their work successfully. The university’s ability to reach its student community is thus fragmented.

To remove fragmentation, policy makers, planners and stakeholders must define a set of universal rules for the built environment to meet the needs of the students living in PBSA. Within such a framework, public sector funders and private sector investors can collaborate to deliver the physical infrastructure needed for smart urban networks. The divide between smart campus and smart city is removed; buildings and people can inter-connect; the Smart Campus vision becomes attainable.