From education to employment

New Census data highlights shifting student accommodation preferences

Newly released Census data show a jump of 16.7% in the number of 16-24-year-olds living in communal establishments between 2011 to 2021. While it might be easy to assume this is simply down to growth in student numbers, figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) tell a different story.

Student numbers have certainly risen over the past decade. The number of student enrolments, including both undergraduates and postgraduates, has increased from 2,503,010 students in 2010/11 to 2,751,865 in 2020/21. But that growth stands at 9.9%, meaning that it is a higher proportion of the student body now living in community establishments, not just a higher number.

“The new Census figures reflect students’ increasing preference for communal establishments. We have seen demand grow over the past decade, particularly for purpose-built student accommodation that offers student renters a more lifestyle-focused approach to their accommodation.”

Graham Hayward, Chief Operating Officer, Housing Hand

In terms of the bigger picture, there are a number of problems on the not-too-distant horizon. According to StuRents, the UK is on track to face a shortfall of around 450,000 student beds by 2025, based on the firm’s analysis of the number of new beds likely to be delivered by that time, compared to growing student numbers.

A range of rapidly shifting factors are also making the situation more complex, according to UK rental guarantor service Housing Hand. CEO Graham Hayward points out that the UK was the first major international education centre to recover from Covid, with competition in Australia and the US lagging behind in recovery terms. This has driven higher short-term popularity in the UK for overseas applicants for university places – a large proportion of whom seek out communal establishments such as halls or purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) to meet their housing needs.

“Following a couple of years during which universities courted UK-based students more strenuously, due to international travel disruption, the accommodation sector is left racing to catch up with this renewed attention from overseas applicants. It makes sense from a funding perspective, as international students pay higher fees, but there is still also potential for disruption. Let’s not forget that China, which is beaten only by India in terms of the number of students being sent to the UK, is still facing significant Covid challenges.”

Graham Hayward, Chief Operating Officer, Housing Hand

Another hangover from the pandemic is disruption to the supply of new homes in the PBSA sector. Supply chain disruption was felt across the construction sector in terms of timelines, while global factors have also driven up the price of materials. With landlords of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) in the UK rapidly shutting up shop due to changes in legislation, this is creating a major headache in terms of the supply of student homes.

The student accommodation market is having to respond dynamically to a whole host of shifting factors at present. Universities are looking at ways to make the student experience more accessible to international applicants, such as partnering with Housing Hand to remove barriers to renting in the private rental sector, to maximise their higher fee potential. Some universities are also working with accommodation providers who are further away from campus, with arrangements in place to cover transportation costs in the short-term. We’ve seen this happen in Bristol, York, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Durham and various other UK towns and cities.”

James Maguire, Head of Sales and Business Development, Housing Hand

The cost-of-living crisis has thrown a further spanner in the works, leading an increasing number of young people to question the value of obtaining a degree. Many are exploring the potential of apprenticeship degrees instead, where they can work and learn at the same time. They can develop workplace skills and experience while gaining their qualification, along with a more-than-likely guaranteed job at the end of the process – and without saddling themselves with tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of debt.

The result of all this is pressure on all those concerned – on universities, accommodation providers and individual students and their families. University halls, PBSA providers, HMOs and landlords in the private rented sector will all play a key role in the future of the UK’s student housing sector. In light of the current economic pressures, so too will guarantors. It’s a complex situation.”

James Maguire, Head of Sales and Business Development, Housing Hand

For more information, please contact Housing Hand today on +44 (0) 207 205 2625 or visit

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