Delays have beset student housing schemes of late, but one solution exists to help speed up delivery
It wasn't the best start to students' academic life. In early October, it emerged that hundreds of them across the UK had been forced to find last-minute accommodation after developers failed to complete accommodation blocks on time. Some could only find alternative digs 50 km away from campus.
The BBC reported that, in total, the completion of 22 private student blocks had been delayed, representing a third of those planned for the new academic year. Cities affected included Liverpool, Bristol, Durham, Swansea and Portsmouth.
The news was certainly taken seriously by the government. After the story broke, universities minister Chris Skidmore vowed to meet with representatives from the developers involved and described the situation as "deeply concerning".
"Higher education providers are independent, but this situation is deeply concerning and we cannot allow this inadequacy to continue," he said in a statement.
"The quality of accommodation can affect student welfare, which is why providers who fail to complete projects on time and provide adequate alternative provision need to be held accountable."
Of course, construction projects going over programme is common enough, but student-accommodation overruns present particular problems.
As the minister alluded to, the most private student accommodation is occupied by first-years, who are often moving away from home for the first time; a decent roof over their heads should be a given.
"Metek has always delivered university accommodation projects on – and often ahead of – time" Oliver Rogan, Metek
Delivering student accommodation on time is essential, but as the recent crop of stories demonstrates, it doesn't always happen, thereby causing distress to students and embarrassment to developers.
However, according to light-steel-frame specialist Metek's managing director, Oliver Rogan, decisions taken at an early stage of a student-accommodation project can provide confidence that deadlines will be met.
Metek has been helping to deliver student-accommodation projects for the past 19 years and, Mr Rogan says, the sector is continuing to grow despite the challenges confronting academic institutions as a result of the ongoing Brexit saga.
"The university residential sector is expanding rapidly, as student numbers and expectation of the quality of the academic experience increase," he says.
"Time constraints often make university accommodation projects critical for completion to hit student intake, and Metek has always delivered projects on – and often ahead of – time, also ensuring builders can complete the projects to a high quality."
Those coming to study from overseas, Mr Rogan adds, are especially keen on having fully functioning and equipped accommodation in place upon arrival.
"International students are a large part of the market, and they require convenience, as they enter a brand-new city," he says.
"They prefer 'plug and play' accommodation. They don't want hassle, like sorting out their own council tax or negotiating with local landlords. Metek's 100 per cent record in achieving programme for student accommodation is a key reason why clients choose us again and again to deliver the structure of the building."
Mr Rogan stresses that while part of the reason that projects have always been delivered on time is because the firm's light-steel
solutions can be implemented quickly; it is also because they are highly adaptable.
"Often, construction on campuses is constrained due to other buildings, but the Metek team are able to plan, design and build in difficult terrain," he says.
The company's use of BIM is also a vital factor in ensuring projects are delivered in a timely fashion and to budget, Mr Rogan adds. "Digital construction is the backbone of how the company deliveries on time, on budget and safely," he says.
"Commercially, technically and with the onsite team, BIM is not just part of our culture – it's the only way Metek works."
Hot-rolled steel podium frames
The company's systems have also kept pace with developments in the student-accommodation market.
Modern schemes often feature large communal facilities at the ground and first-floor levels that are used to provide multiple amenities, such as cafes and study spaces, as well as gyms and adaptable social areas.
"Metek has been delivering a hot-rolled podium frame (pictured) for all our schemes, allowing for one subcontractor to drive the engineering, design, manufacture and installation for the scheme," says Mr Rogan.
"With over 1,000 tonnes of hot-rolled steel done this year, the new solution is welding a great future for the company."
To date, Metek has built more than 1,920 student-accommodation rooms in Wales, 2,708 across England and 820 in Scotland. Given the recent negative publicity about delayed projects, it will no doubt build many more – especially if it can maintain that 100 per cent success rate on building to programme.