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Rise in university dropouts and homelessness ‘inevitable’ as UK student housing approaches ‘crisis point’

The UK is approaching a “crisis point” in student housing, and risks seeing accommodation shortages on a scale not witnessed since the 1970s, a charity has warned.

With private rents soaring and the Covid pandemic having dealt a financial blow to universities, the National Union of Students (NUS) has warned of an “inevitable” rise in dropouts and student homelessness unless “urgent action” is taken to increase the amount of affordable housing available.

The situation has reportedly prompted at least one university to recommend that students drop out if they cannot find housing, with some young people forced to live in different cities from the institution they are attending – prompting calls for a cap on admissions.

Experts have warned of growing shortages in the private rental sector as landlords turn their gaze to tenants in professional roles, coming at a time when the rapid growth in private student halls is “dramatically slowing”.

“You’re beginning to see student housing moving into shortage across the majority of universities – not just the ones you read about,” said Martin Blakey, chief executive of the student housing charity Unipol.

“The reason is that purpose-built student accommodation has stopped expanding to the extent it was, and we don’t think that’s going to change,” he told The Guardian. “At the same time we think there’s a significant decrease in shared houses – [landlords] are moving back to renting to professionals or leaving the market.”

The situation has been compounded by universities running fewer of their own student halls in favour of less financially riskier partnerships with private providers, Mr Blakey said – a move hastened after many unviersities were forced to refund rents and pay for empty rooms when the pandemic drove a rapid shift away from face-to-face teaching, and international student numbers plummeted.

But with international students returning en masse and universities expanding, Mr Blakey warned that the situation will worsen in January and again in September.

There is a shortfall of 207,000 student rooms, with a shortage of more than 10 per cent in 19 towns and cities – rising to 28 and 25 per cent in Preston and Bristol, respectively, according to data compiled by the StuRents accommodation portal.

StuRents co-founder Michael Rainsford told The Guardian that strong competition for accommodation led to an average rise in price of 10 per cent in the past year.

“We’re seeing the earliest searches ever by students who are scrambling to secure somewhere to live” in time for autumn 2023, he said.

Chloe Field, NUS vice-president for higher education, warned that the “unprecedented” housing shortage was “jeopardising students’ university experience and forcing them to make difficult decisions”.

“Without urgent action to increase the amount of affordable housing, it is inevitable that both dropouts and student homelessness will increase,” she told the paper.

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