The Student Experience in Belfast
Belfast is home to a world class University and a 40,000 strong student population.
Recently named the most affordable city in the UK by the 2015 Student Living Index, Belfast is an increasingly popular choice for both UK and International students. Queen’s University Belfast is listed in the top 1% of global universities and attracts thousands of international students each year. A longstanding partner of ASK4, we spoke to Mike Uprichard, Assistant Head of Accommodation at Queen’s, about the student experience in Belfast.
Q: What are most notable changes to the student experience in Belfast in recent years?
“There has been a year-on-year development in the provision of services designed to meet the needs of students coming to study in Belfast. Apart from first year undergraduates, many students who arrive have studied at a university elsewhere across the globe and therefore their expectations of the living and learning elements to university life have increased. At Queen’s, work to provide a world class experience is beginning to take shape and is evidenced in the University’s reputation and rapid climb up the world rankings.
Belfast has also lifted its global image as a “must visit” destination in Europe. The city centre and south of the city offers students an expansive range of coffee shops, eateries and entertainment options, making the ‘Queen’s Quarter’ a very popular zone. Belfast also has the lowest cost of living in the UK and Queen’s is number one in the Russell Group for low cost purpose built managed student accommodation (PBMSA). The atmosphere has changed in Belfast and students living here rate it highly as a fun place to be.”
Q: Do you notice a difference in student expectations?
“Students are no longer interested in sharing bathrooms in their accommodation or having a meal plan included in their fees. First preference is prominently for en suite rooms with self-catering to allow them to suit themselves. High speed WiFi is now regarded as a utility, and it is a given that when they arrive to check-in, they can also connect to the internet immediately and easily. A good internet connection is also vital to ensure studying is hassle free. Partnering with ASK4 for the student accommodation at Queen’s offers students an array of online services including TV and 24/7/365 support meaning students can have a query resolved at any time.”
Q: What has been the impact of increased international student numbers for the university and city?
“The increasing number if international students living in Belfast and studying at Queen’s has resulted in a number of operational and service changes to meet the needs and expectations of a culturally diverse population. Lifestyle options in accommodation are now popular and Queen’s offers ‘no alcohol’, ‘quiet living’ and ‘single sex’ accommodation options. International students are guaranteed a place in university accommodation and this has put a strain on the demand for places from local students who cannot commute on a daily basis and need to live on campus. The balance of the resident student population at Queen’s has changed dramatically in the last 5 years from being 80% local students to having 53% of residents coming from outside Northern Ireland in 2015.
Queen’s is actively pursuing a number of options and investing over £70m to develop new, additional accommodation places. Some of the schemes considered are off campus in the city centre. Most recently, planning approval has been successful for two scheme offering over 1200 places in studios and small cluster flats.”
Q: What do you feel are the biggest selling points for students coming to Belfast?
“The main selling points are definitely the low cost of accommodation compared to other parts of the UK, and that students feel safe living in Belfast and in purpose built, managed student accommodation in particular. The life-cycle refurbishment programme by Queen’s introduced in 2014 to refurbish 100% of its accommodation stock to meet the increasing expectations of students has received very positive feedback to date and the availability of better quality housing in the private sector is also a welcome development to students.
Belfast city is a great place to be and Northern Ireland offers endless attractions and outdoor events and activities for students to take part in. With the local environment being relatively rural, students from Queen’s and Belfast can travel into the countryside within minutes. The transport links to the rest of the UK, Ireland, Europe and further afield have never been better which makes Belfast an increasingly attractive and viable option for students making decisions on where to study in the UK.”