What do students spend on in Brno and how do they move around the city?

A city of students, a city of universities or a city of research and development – that is how Brno is currently nicknamed. Fifteen years ago, however, the city looked differently; it was not profiled in any manner and was still only searching for its identity. Following the transformation processes that took place in the 1990s, the mechanical engineering industry was in a downturn, and the trade fairs also kept losing their previous  glamour. And it was the universities and especially their students that gave Brno a completely new appearance.

Since the turn of the millennium, the number of university students has increased significantly. Universities have received a lot of financial support for their own development and for the development of scientific facilities. In addition to the emergence of cutting-edge science and a perfect background for education, however, Brno has undergone a much deeper change. The economic structure of the city has changed significantly, with about 75% of people working in services, and with industry and construction sectors accounting for only one quarter. The city has gotten remarkably more vibrant, and not only has its centre changed, but also local centres and their adjacent residential areas. While ten or fifteen years ago it was sometimes difficult to find a restaurant in Brno where to go for a dinner, the city is now its reputation as a gastronomic centre with a number of well-famed restaurants. Coffee places are also experiencing a great revival. The presence of students and universities is a major contributor to all this.

Universities exercise their influence on the city’s economy in several ways, directly and indirectly. Indirect influences are, for example, the production of highly skilled and educated workers, attracting new investors to the city, developing new types of services and small and medium-sized enterprises. In this article, however, we will focus on the direct influences. These are represented primarily by the consumer behaviour of students, which has an impact on the economic development of the city. We have been trying to capture these direct influences in the form of research since the turn of the years 2011/2012. A total of 4 surveys have been carried out so far (2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018 waves), in which more than 10,000 students participated voluntarily; that is a high number in itself and proves the fact that students value Brno rather highly. These surveys, which are processed through bachelor’s and master’s theses, focus on the consumer behaviour of students, meaning the type of accommodation and transport, leisure time, weekly and monthly income and expenditure and their composition. The surveys take the form of an online opinion poll questioning, where students are addressed through their schools on behalf of the Brno City Municipality and asked to fill in an electronic questionnaire. This means, that it is an opinion poll rather than  a representative sociological research. The results in fact cannot be considered as fully reflecting the behaviour and attitudes of all the students at Brno universities, but we can, to a certain extent, consider them as having a good informative value, which is also confirmed by the continuity and mutual consistency of the results of the individual time waves of the survey.

The last wave of the survey was participated in by 1,611 respondents (of which 1,536 completed the Czech version and 75 the English version). Female students were responding more than male students (64% women versus 36% men), and more respondents were in the younger age category (undergraduate students of bachelor grade  accounted for two-thirds of our sample, while doctoral students made up for only 3%). The highest proportion of respondents was represented by students of Masaryk University (62%), followed by Brno University of Technology students (21%), Mendel University students (7%) and University of Veterinary and Pharmaceutical Sciences (6%). Eight out of ten respondents were of Czech nationality and less than one fifth was male and female students from Slovakia. Only 1.5% of our sample were students from other foreign countries.

All four waves of the surveys confirmed the fact that Brno attracts mainly students from the South Moravian Region and also to a greater extent from the Vysočina Region and from the Zlín, Olomouc and Pardubice Regions. Also apparent is a link to the Moravian-Silesian Region and the nearby regions of the Slovak Republic.

The first part of the questionnaire dealt with transportation issues – how students travel to the city and how they move around when they are directly in Brno. Students (only those who do not live in Brno) are most often transported to Brno by train, less frequently by bus and by car. Compared to the survey carried out in the year 2016, we can observe an increase in train transport. The train is now considerably cheaper for students thanks to the student discounts that have been introduced since 2018, and probably also more comfortable due to the ongoing modernization of trains. Hence, in the year 2018, two-thirds of the respondents arrived to Brno by train, more than one-third by bus and less than one third by car (either by their own car or by using some of the carpooling services). It is important to note that the number of students travelling by car has decreased compared to the year 2014. Should this trend continue, it would have a positive impact on parking place capacity, not only those adjacent to school buildings, but especially in residential areas.

 

We were also interested in the modes of travelling around Brno – most of the students, even those from abroad, travel by public transport, or nine out of ten respondents use public transport at least sometimes. Students use long-term prepaid tickets as a means of payment for public transport – 85% of respondents purchase such tickets. Students with permanent residence in Brno most frequently buy a one-year season ticket. Compared to previous years, there was an increase in the popularity of walking, which is used by more than two fifths of the respondents. This can be due both to the real increase in awareness of the benefits of walking, for example, as part of a healthy lifestyle, and to seeing the importance of walking as a full-fledged transport mode. Overall, cycling remains a rather minor mode of transport – less than 6% of respondents use the bike. A slightly higher proportion of students used the car to travel around Brno – less than 8% of all the respondents.

 

The next chapter of the survey consisted of housing and catering. Nine out of ten respondents had a place to stay in Brno, the most common being renting an apartment or a room (57% of the respondents stayed in a leased or subleased property, 22% lived in student halls, 11% lived with their parents and 3% of the respondents lived in their own apartment). 8% of the students commuted to Brno every day, which is the lowest number of all the survey waves. In comparison with the previous survey results, the number of students living in a leased or subleased property has been increasing and the numbers of those daily commuting and those living in student halls has been slightly decreasing.

From the point of view of localities, the most preferred city district is Brno-Central, followed by Královo Pole, Brno-sever, Žabovřesky, Nový Lískovec, Starý Lískovec and Bohunice. The least sought-after locations are situated in the suburban areas of the city. However, not only the locality but above all the price plays a big role in the decision-making and choice of the type of housing. The amount spent by students on housing usually ranges between CZK 2,500 and 4,000. Average housing expenses are CZK 3,600. The average amount for foreigners (except those from Slovakia) is CZK 5,700.

We also investigated the eating habits of students, particularly whether they used the services of local restaurants and businesses, whether they attended a school canteen, or whether they preferred cooking at home. Half of the students usually cook at home by themselves, less than one third of the students attend a school canteen, while the popularity of canteens has dropped over time (28% of the students ate in the canteens in 2018, while it was one third in 2016). Only a minimum of foreign students eat in the canteens, and on the other hand, they eat more often in restaurants. 15% of the students carry their food from home and 6% regularly visit restaurants and similar catering establishments (such as bistros). The data also imply that women cook more at home than men, while men prefer lunches in restaurants.

Brno is not only a major educational centre, but also a centre of culture and social life, which creates an ideal base for leisure time spending. Students are an important target group from which these varied services draw their profit. In order to find out what activities the students are most interested in, a question about the students’ leisure time was included in the questionnaire. Students divide their time off between sports (two fifths do sports every week and spend on average CZK 400 per month on sport) and clubs, bars and cafés, which are visited by two fifths of the respondents every week with a monthly spending of about CZK 1,100. Less frequently, but still relatively often (at least once a month or more) students attend cultural events such as cinemas, concerts, theatres and exhibitions, which costs them an average of CZK 460.

In terms of revenues, students gain them from several principal sources. It was investigated whether students contributed to their studies by gainful activity during the year, whether they were supported by parents or other family members, or whether they were eligible for a scholarship and the amount of such a contribution. It turned out that parents or other family members were an important source of money for 86% of the students surveyed. The amount supported by a student’s family is around CZK 5,000. 14% of students pay all their study costs by themselves. 60% of the respondents were entitled to some form of scholarship in 2018, and most often it was accommodation allowance, with an average of CZK 1,300.

Part time jobs represent another source of income: 45% of students engage in part time jobs throughout the year, which is a lower share than in previous years. Same as in previous years, one-third of students only work during the holidays. Engaging in a job during the studies represents only a minor extra income for most students. The highest proportion of respondents – one third – declared revenues from economic activities ranging between CZK 1,000 and 5,000 per month. The average amount of extra money that students earn is around CZK 3,500 per month. One fifth of the respondents do not earn any extra money at all, which is a higher share than in the past.

So much about income. However, we were particularly interested in spending, which is an important aspect of how students influence the city. The highest expenditure, up to one third of the total students’ budget, is represented by housing costs, which on average amounted to approx. CZK 3,600, which is higher in comparison with the past (in 2016, the amount was CZK 2,800). On the other hand, the amount for transportation to Brno decreased by less than one third to CZK 420 compared to the past. Another item is travel around Brno, where a student spends about CZK 290 a month. An important item of the student’s budget is the expenditure on food out of home (restaurants, canteens, etc.) – i.e. without buying groceries to eat at home. On average, students spent CZK 1,500 per month on meals out of home, and over CZK 2,100 per month on other regular purchases such as groceries for cooking at home and chemist’s goods. On average, the students spent CZK 1,000 on entertainment in cafes, clubs and bars, and on average, the students spend CZK 400 on sports activities. They also spend about CZK 500 per month on clothing and footwear. Other miscellaneous expenditure amounts to CZK 1,250. In total, the average monthly expenditure of our respondents amounted to CZK 11,600 in 2018. Compared to the previous wave of the survey conducted in 2016, total expenditure increased by CZK 700 per person, i.e. about 6% up, and the structure of spending also changed.

Foreign students (with the exception of Slovaks) live on significantly higher income, so their expenditure was higher in all the above categories, but the most significant was the difference in expenditure on accommodation and meals out of home – the expenses for these items are 2.5 times and 3 times higher, respectively. The total monthly spending made by these foreign students is more than twice as high – on average CZK 24,000 per month.

University students make up a significant part of the Brno population during the academic year, their number being approximately 63 thousand. During the academic year, their number corresponds to approximately 16% of the city’s population and they are thus able to influence the Brno economy. On average, a student spends CZK 11,600 a month on living in Brno. After deducting transportation costs of approximately CZK 420 and assuming that students spend 10 months a year in Brno on average, university students brought almost CZK 7 billion into the Brno economy in 2018.

It should be noted, however, that the large concentration of students also has its downside – for example, students coming to Brno by their own cars increase traffic burden and reduce the capacity of available parking spaces in residential areas. Residential parking may solve this problem – but so far it has been in operation only in the central part of the city. Another aspect is the necessity of providing adequate  public services and infrastructure (such as waste collection, public transport capacity, cleaning and maintenance, waterworks and sewerage, etc.), while most students are not registered for permanent residence in Brno, which means that the city does not gain any contributions from the tax system for these students (although they are in fact residents of the city). From the point of view of coexistence of students with locals, conflicts may occur where people of different generations and groups most often meet – on public transport, in shops and restaurants or in public areas such as parks. Housing is also a major issue, as the offer of apartment rentals to students decreases the supply for other types of tenants, and frequent rotation of students in the apartments may increase the feelings of anonymity or threat for locals.

However, these potential drawbacks are sufficiently outweighed by other benefits. Students significantly influence the face of the city, making the demographically rather aging  city become a city with a young, dynamic face and temperament. Above all, however, they create incentives for the development of various services, influence the development of various forms of housing, and affect the city’s economy in terms of the labour market and employment. Thanks to students, a large number of new jobs are being created in Brno, whether at universities and colleges themselves (for example, Masaryk University employed over 5,300 people in 2017), or in the private sector in different services which are targeting students and young people, but are also used by other groups of the city’s population. Let us not forget that today’s students represent a highly skilled workforce for the future, whose presence already makes the city more attractive to investors. From this point of view, it is important to see how many students want to plant their roots in Brno once they have completed their studies. Less than one third of our respondents are planning to stay in Brno after graduation. This share has fallen somewhat over time and it should be in the interest of the city to keep young people after graduation in Brno, or to attract them to Brno after some time of working elsewhere (7% of the respondents have such plans). However, more than one fifth do not plan to stay in Brno and the way to reduce this share could be, for example, a more diversified and affordable supply of housing options for young people (for, example in the form of starter flats or cooperative housing). One quarter of students do not have a clear idea about their plans for the future (and it is also good to work with this group). Thanks to its students, Brno has a great potential to constantly attract highly qualified young people, who will start their families here and work in industries with higher added value. So far, this development equation works excellently for Brno and there is a good reason to believe that it will continue to do so in the future.

The survey itself is traditionally conducted working together with students who process it as part of their graduation or bachelor theses. In 2018 the survey was carried out by Adam Ostrý, who is now a graduate of the MUNI Faculty of Economics and Administration, and whom we thank for cooperation.