Housing shortages for university students will ‘worsen’ in some cities – charity

School leavers across the UK are preparing to start university in September (PA)
School leavers across the UK are preparing to start university in September (PA)

Housing shortages for university students are “set to worsen” in some cities across the UK, a charity has warned.

Martin Blakey, chief executive of student housing charity Unipol, has said many university students will struggle to find affordable housing this year – and in some cases, “supply will simply dry up”.

His comments come as school leavers across the UK are preparing to start university in September after receiving their results this summer.

In a blog for the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) think tank, Mr Blakey said there were 13,543 new bed spaces in purpose-built student accommodation this year, compared with 29,048 in 2020.

He added that only 9,000 of the 13,543 beds are “actually new” as many rooms are returning to the market following refurbishment or building works.

A similar picture is expected in 2024 and the charity is predicting a  “virtual standstill” in new provision in 2025 and 2026.

“Unless there is currently a ‘spade in the ground’, actual building is unlikely to happen: developers are struggling to maintain viability because of volatile build and funding costs,” Mr Blakey warned.

The blog on HEPI’s website highlights “significant housing shortages” for students in Brighton, Bristol, Durham, Glasgow, Manchester and York last year.

Mr Blakey said: “These are set to worsen in 2023. The possible exception is Brighton where there may be some easing of demand, as intakes have fallen.”

The charity also predicts possible student housing shortages in Bath, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Lincoln and Salford this year.

The blog adds that the main driver for rising accommodation demand is international students – both undergraduates and postgraduates, but mostly postgraduates on one-year taught courses.

It suggests that significant numbers of international postgraduate students have found it hard to find somewhere appropriate to live, and many are in temporary accommodation which “adversely affects their studies”.

Mr Blakey said: “For many students – particularly those last in the queue – this will be a difficult year to find affordable housing. In some cases, supply will simply dry up.

“Having learned lessons from last year’s problems, a lot of institutions are better equipped to assist their students through this difficult experience. However, student services are not magicians.”

Nick Hillman, director of Hepi, said: “It is important to understand that neither students nor accommodation providers are to blame for the current shortages.

“The problems stem from high interest rates, which make building new accommodation less affordable, excessive regulation, seen most clearly in Scotland in recent years, and deflation in students’ real incomes, which makes it harder for them to cover rent.”

Earlier this month, Clare Marchant, the chief executive of higher education admissions service Ucas, admitted that there is a “difficulty” with university accommodation.

Speaking on A-level results day, Ms Marchant said: “I’m sitting here in Cheltenham and Gloucester, there is plenty of accommodation. If you go to a bigger, more urban area, they might have more issues.”

She told the PA news agency: “There are hotspots with accommodation and students are aware of that and just need to research the options as they do their course research.”

Universities UK (UUK) said there is usually a “first-year accommodation guarantee” for eligible students.

But it advised any concerned students to get in touch with their university’s accommodation team before the start of term to see what their options are on housing.

A UUK spokeswoman said: “While only around a quarter of students are in purpose-built accommodation, we recognise that it is a key part of a student’s experience, and housing issues can cause students significant worry.”

She added: “Different universities will take different approaches to managing increased demand in their cities or areas, but to support them in this UUK recently published good practice in managing accommodation challenges.

“While recognising universities are not directly responsible for all elements of their local housing market, it outlines the important role they have to play in partnership with other local higher education institutions, the local authority, and private accommodation providers, to find solutions.”