Educational real estate: Opportunities abound as the UAE pursues academic excellence

The UAE’s competitiveness as a higher education hub has witnessed a steep rise in the last decade. The nation now features in global academic discourse, with foreign students keeping the UAE as a plausible option. Especially in the last couple of years, the government has taken decisive steps to supplement the education sector, making it more desirable. 

UAE as a hub for higher education

There is no shortage of quality universities in the UAE, with as many as 10 institutes of higher learning bagging a spot on the QS World University Rankings for 2022(1). As a result, the government’s efforts to attract more international students have been incredibly successful. Affordable educational programmes, along with enticing long-term visas and job opportunities for outstanding students, have incentivized them to head to the Emirate. 

Today, Dubai alone is home to 34 international universities, with one in every four students being an expat. According to recent data, the average increase in annual enrollment rate in these institutions stands at a healthy 3.6%(2).

Educational real estate: Opportunity for developers

As the UAE relentlessly pursues academic excellence, a unique opportunity has presented itself to real estate developers. The increasing number of university enrollments, both from local and international students, will lead to demand for affordable purpose-built housing as on-campus residences can only accommodate so many. Against this backdrop, real estate developers have an untapped opportunity. 

The demand for student-led accommodations

After more than two years of social distancing, quarantining, and other restrictions dictating their community interactions, students (local and international) are eager to get their lives back on track. For many, that involves living in a “university setting,” even if it means not living on the campus.

In particular, students from outside the UAE are more likely to prefer off-campus housing. This is because such living arrangements tend to be more flexible compared to a hostel governed by the university administration. Off-campus housing can also be convenient in terms of leasing options and are more open to students staying over extended breaks during/between academic years. 

Affordable accommodations with high-tech amenities: A winning combination

Like any other category of tenants, students crave housing amenities that can enhance convenience and comfort. Moreover, since they are usually on tighter budgets, any bells and whistles are likely to go down well with them. Their needs and lifestyles require practical and high-tech amenities. Some amenities do not have to come at additional expenses as tech adoption also has a cost optimization factor. With lower operating expenses, property owners can charge lesser rent and attract more tenants. For real estate developers, the more deals they close, the better it will be for their business.

Package rooms, smart buildings, and keyless access control are some of the tech-forward facilities that real estate developers should focus on providing. Students nowadays prefer to do almost everything on their smartphones. Therefore, adopting app-based entry mechanisms can streamline visitor management and property access for the young tenants.

Student-friendly mixed-use communities are the way forward

International students, just like their local counterparts, demand convenience above everything else. They are often pulled in a thousand different directions trying to juggle coursework, community life, and, in many cases, jobs and internships. So, if they can find all essentials nearby, it makes life much easier. And, what is better than having access to daily necessities — grocery stores, laundromats, cafes, etc. — in the very building that they live in? Therefore, building student-friendly mixed-use facilities can be a masterstroke for real estate developers. The potential in this largely untapped market is huge.


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