GSA tapping rich vein with its Irish student housing schemes
With an estimated 40,000 third-level students competing for accommodation in Dublin's private rental sector annually, the potential importance of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) should be obvious to the Government and anyone else with an interest in addressing the capital's housing crisis.
But as important as it is already, the provision of dedicated student residences will be critical should Dublin see an influx of professionals from London as a result of Brexit. With 4.3 million square feet of offices with the capacity for 40,000 workers under construction in Dublin, the student population could soon be priced out of a market where rents have already surpassed their 'Celtic Tiger' heights.
And so, last Thursday's launch by UK-headquartered student accommodation specialists, GSA, of the show apartment at its latest Dublin development, the 400-bed Uninest New Mill on Mill Street, is to be welcomed.
The €41m scheme is on course to open this September, and is the second of four developments that GSA will have delivered in Dublin by 2019 once it completes the €250m building programme it has planned for the capital.
The company already operates a 101-bed student residence at Broadstone Hall. It opened for business last September following a full refurbishment. Apart from this September's planned opening of Uninest on Mill Street, GSA also plans to provide an additional 491 beds at Kavanagh Court, which is being delivered by BAM Construction. September 2018 meanwhile will see the opening of GSA's fourth Dublin student residence, on Brunswick Street. The property will provide a total of 570 student beds and is being built by Bennett Construction.
Asked by the Sunday Independent if GSA might look to deepen its involvement and investment in Dublin, its ceo for the EMEA region, Tim Mitchell, said: "Our current business plan is to aim towards the delivery of 5,000 bed spaces in Dublin over time. Ultimately, the investment of €250m that we announced when we started out two or three years ago with a plan to do 2,000 to 3,000 bed spaces may double to €500m as a result of our confidence in the market in Dublin.
"In time, we would like to think about looking further afield, possibly to Galway, but at the moment we're very focussed on the Dublin market."
While GSA is a relative newcomer to Ireland, there's little doubt it stands to benefit from first-mover advantage, given the dearth of PBSA providers operating here at present.
On this, Mitchell says: "You've got around about 100,000 students in full-time education in Dublin. We started looking at Dublin about four years ago. More recently, the opportunity [Dublin represents] is building. It's not only a result of Brexit. We see the economy, and more particularly the Irish education economy, growing significantly."
Asked what impact or otherwise he believes Brexit might have on the Irish university sector and accommodation, he said: "The key thing from our perspective with Ireland is that the market is very open. It's a very attractive place to come and live and study. What we're very focused on is building our [student] communities in cities where it's not only about the educational experience but the life one can have in a place like Dublin."
Commenting on the impact Brexit may have in the UK, the GSA chief said: "The UK education market is so strong that it will keep on powering ahead. But there's no doubt though that we think Dublin will be a big beneficiary of the message that Brexit sends to the wider world. We're a global business in terms of the student accommodation space. Students globally look at markets where they feel welcome and... where they feel they will have a great student experience."
Interestingly, Mitchell believes that Donald Trump could have a far greater impact than Brexit in terms of increasing Ireland's attractiveness to international students.
"When [George] Bush number two was unveiling his policies, he sent a very unfriendly message to international students globally which saw students who were going to study in America choosing to study in Europe. So I think Trump may have an even bigger effect than Brexit. Brexit will sort itself out," he says.
For those third-level students interested in securing accommodation at one of GSA's residences in Dublin, average costs typically work out at about €250 a week. That includes all-inclusive utilities and Wi-Fi, as well as the use of social amenity spaces within the buildings and gyms in the company's larger properties.
Accommodation may be rented for durations varying between 41 and 42 weeks up to periods of 51 weeks, making GSA residences suitable for both students seeking accommodation for term time only and for those requiring housing in Dublin all year round.
Asked if residences would be offered to tourists during summers, Mitchell was adamant that GSA's focus is on the student market exclusively.
He said: "It's important to think of students as a customer group. They're living their lives as students and having your students mixed in with other occupier groups is not necessarily a good thing."
"We're a student-only business. That's what we know about and that's what we specialise in. We would always aim to have students in occupation for as much of the year as possible. "We're not going to divert ourselves by looking at other customer groups."