A Growing Student Population in the UK is Driving Demand

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Despite disruption caused by the pandemic, the student population in the UK just keeps growing, leading to surging demand for city-centre student accommodation.

The number of school-leavers choosing to pursue higher education has been on the rise for over a decade. Despite the government’s push to promote alternative routes (i.e., apprenticeships), universities are welcoming more and more students onto their campuses every year.

2022 saw a record-breaking 44% of 18-year-olds apply for higher education, and in August, 180,000 students took their place at university. This marked the highest number of 18-year-old first-year students ever recorded, and reflected a 20% increase on 2019.

UK student numbers

International student numbers

The UK’s exit from the EU naturally led to concerns around a potential decline in international student numbers. However, while the number of EU students studying in the UK has fallen post-Brexit, the overall international student population continues to grow.

In fact, steady growth in international student numbers has enabled the UK to meet its 2030 enrolment target nearly ten years ahead of schedule.

In 2020/21, there were over 605,000 international students enrolled at UK universities. When compared to the previous academic year, this represents a 9% increase in international student numbers, largely led by non-EU countries such as China. Around 12% more Chinese students applied for UK courses, totalling 14,500.

The impact of the pandemic on universities

With universities forced to move courses online, some were concerned that the pandemic would lead to a decline in student numbers. However, data shows that school-leavers continued to apply for university places.

In 2020/21, around 2.66 million students were enrolled in UK higher education institutions; this reflected an annual increase of 9%, according to HESA. The statistics agency also revealed that out of 267 providers, 107 registered an increase in student numbers.

There were a record-breaking 750,000 applications for full-time undergraduate places through UCAS in 2021, with around 560,000 accepted. A record number of clearing places were also available through UCAS for school-leavers who did not attain their predicted grades.

Pent-up demand outstrips supply

The student population in the UK continued to grow throughout the pandemic, but many did decide to defer, leading to a backlog in student numbers. Right now, the release of pent-up demand is leading to an even greater shortage of student accommodation.

Manchester Metropolitan has recently been in the spotlight for undergoing an “accommodation crisis“. Unable to meet demand in Manchester, the university was forced to offer prospective first-years £100 a week to take-up accommodation in Liverpool or Huddersfield.

It is no wonder, then, that investors are flocking to the UK student property scene, where demand is soaring, returns are generous, and continued growth seems inevitable.


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