CUBO Winter Conference 2021

Winter Conference 2021 Round-Up

The state of HE, hospitality and the economy took centre stage alongside sustainability and residence life at the 2021 CUBO winter conference - a day of insights from the CBI, UK Hospitality, HEPI, UCAS, Lancaster University, LSE and The University of Sheffield among others. Here are the main takeaways:


Covid has demonstrated the importance of our aim to connect, to share knowledge and emerging best practice, and digital has made this faster.

Commercial teams bring unique business skills and important partnerships to universities, as well as making a significant financial contribution.

Going forward, CUBO will have an increased focus and dedicated Board roles for sustainability, learning & development, EDI and FE.

L&D will include mentoring - both for and from people coming into the sector.

Our approach to sustainability requires a reset - to look at what we do and work with EAUC on how the sector can move forward.

EDI matters. Our focus will be how we can use CUBO to increase EDI across the sector.

FE is likely to become more important in the UK. We already have two FE members and expect this to grow.

We shouldn't underestimate the importance of what we do. For students, there are two key commercial transactions – choosing our university and living in our accommodation. With the other services we provide, we play a key role in making a great campus experience.

We are cooperating increasingly with other sector bodies, bringing the experiential element to the discussion.

A future challenge will be international students and especially reliance on Chinese students.

The higher wage economy and new working patterns are also key issues. A lot of us are experiencing a shortage of staff, and are taking different approaches to agile working.

The Accommodation Costs Survey highlights an increasing demand for en-suite rooms. Are students wanting to be more isolated? This is where residence life is so important in supporting mental health.

Among the opportunities for commercial services, we have the space for businesses that don’t want permanent offices.

Winter conference marks the beginning of a process of understanding what we need to do. 


Recovery remains bumpy – expect disruption to last into late 2022

Underlying wage growth is around 4.5% and likely to continue. The labour market will remain tight for a while.

A higher wage economy means either price rises or increased productivity. Employers should look at targeted wage increases, hybrid working, retraining, and investment in labour-saving technology, while Government needs to address the key skills shortage and have a more agile immigration policy. Higher education has a role, too - in ensuring graduate employability through specific, highly valued skills such as spoken communication.

In a competitive labour market, the HE sector can attract talent by broadening its selection pool, better selling the benefits (pension, holidays, F&B discounts, training and development) and social value of HE, shortening recruitment processes and considering private sector benefits like performance related pay and bonuses.


There is positive growth in both domestic and international students. The Government is positive towards international students, though wary of HE reliance on them.

Students want to be on campus: in-person is three times as popular as online teaching.

Government is looking at the cost of HE. All options for reducing costs under consideration have downsides, but a lower threshold for loan repayment is the most popular.

97% of parents would like their child to go to university - switching them to FE and apprenticeships may not be easy. Universities could better support their local community with degree apprenticeships.

There is a lack of understanding among students of how the debt actually works, leading to a huge psychological burden, despite the majority never paying it back.


A mammoth task, but HE can be instigators of change locally and nationally. Focus on the key areas where emissions are highest, formulate an action plan and don’t beat yourself up.

Listen to and work with academics and scientists. The University of Sheffield Sustainability Delivery Group is cross-university. This has put commercial in focus and turned it into “a living lab”.

Work with suppliers so they understand your challenge: Sustainability | Cafes and bars | The University of Sheffield

Unite Students are currently piloting a retrofit of air source heat pumps - up to 20% cut in carbon emissions per bed.

Student and staff buy-in is essential to achieve targets. This needs a positive engagement approach. Unite Students are relaunching the Positive Impact campaign with NUS.


The sector is in good health and growing, but as more students enter at 18, older groups are declining.

Covid seems to have confirmed that students want to study away from home.

The growth in beds is expected to meet the growth in applicants. PBSA is being built to meet demand, but is not all on stream yet. Teacher assessed grades have also caused issues with supply. Certain cities and universities are strong brands that attract people.

Around 70% of students in halls felt well supported during Covid.

Students still want to connect, but their lives and social lives are built around entertainment media.

A large % of their money goes on accommodation, so value for money perceptions are around the accommodation matching their expectations. Being modern, clean and well-maintained matter more than size.

Expect a change of some kind to the admissions system….


Over 40% of universities surveyed find it harder to attract students to reslife roles. Reasons include not wanting to live in, more focus on study, Covid being a hard year and increasing mental health issues.

50% offer pay, 42% offer free accommodation. Gradual move away from live-in warden model to a more professional external service.

50% of universities offer pay, 42% offer free accommodation. There is a gradual move away from the live-in warden model to a more professional external service.

Reslife can be perceived as costly but need not be: tap into existing university services

Value can be hard to evidence: The University of Sheffield has incorporated learning outcomes and themes in its service, and support and conduct elements are now centrally funded. Year-round communication with students also helps to reveal the value. The cooperation and support of the NUS is really important.

UUK’s Mentally Healthy Universities Initiative is a whole university approach with four domains: learn, live, work, play. It is likely to become more important in future.

Demand for mental health support will extend to victims of assault.

There is a blurring of boundaries between staff and students – the RA is both staff and student.

Staff need training to support students and understand boundaries e.g. the cleaner who discovers a student self-harming.

Reslife works best within commercial and accommodation services – greater understanding of what is going on, know the staff on the ground, operationally efficient. But there is potential benefit in sharing some staff with Student Services.

Private providers should plan from the early days with universities, within nomination agreements, and try to mirror residence life. Speak to university partners – they have to look at the live domain.


We are only likely to get a week’s notice of Plan B, if introduced.

Over 90% of hospitality is now open. Trading is at 80% - lower in cities due to lack of conferencing - but there is a long way to go to business as usual.

Hospitality sector had 10% vacancy level – short of 170-180,000 workers, especially kitchen & catering.

The hospitality sector had 10% vacancy level and is short of 170-180,000 workers, especially kitchen & catering. UK Hospitality is working with Government: the DWP is proactively pushing people to come into jobs in hospitality e.g. through front-loaded apprenticeships.

The Sector has a burden of debt, is behind with training, and there is a cost and price inflation incl wages and utility bills – this will need to be passed on to customer.

UKH is asking Government not to make it worse, making sure they understand the implications of action on VAT, business rates, food law changes and other legislation. The VAT cut was critical to getting many businesses through, and it would be a retrograde step to put it back up in March just when increased costs are hitting UKHospitality Campaign.

Language schools have an appetite to return but this is not translating into demand. Not letting young people from the continent travel on an ID card does not help.

Need to rebuild the skills and professional development that have fallen by the wayside, and make hospitality a career of choice.

This is a Covid reset moment in terms of labour – paying people, scheduling labour ( Stint - The next breakthrough in hospitality staffing).

The new hybrid way of working is a double-edged sword. It is an opportunity for the events business – people will want a value-added experience.

Tech apps have automated the mundane. Cash payments won’t disappear but cashless will be the norm.

The main demographic is feeling positive and spending money, and the collaborative work we have done will take us forward to a brighter future.

Thank you to our sponsors and partners

Thanks to our Platinum sponsors, Unite StudentsWarwick Event Services and UPP, and all Gold sponsors/exhibitors. Effective commercial partnerships will be ever more important as we move forward to meet the challenges ahead.



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