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Face to face learning is BACK! Student property investments are back to FULL strength!

by Nikki Dale -

Since March 2020 students studying in the UK have dealt with many restrictions and changes as to where they are taught and how their university courses will be delivered.  Undoubtedly, most have experienced interruptions to their learning, and the concept of traditional learning has radically changed, mainly due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

UK higher education institutions have worked tirelessly to minimise the risk during the pandemic, and for several months in 2020 and beginning of 2021, physical presence in the classroom just wasn’t an option for students.  However, the government have guided universities to help, and hopefully provide students with an enjoyable experience, while staying as safe as possible, until May 17th, 2021, when students could return to in-person teaching and learning.

What was student accommodation demand during the pandemic?

Notwithstanding the coronavirus disruptions to higher education courses, teaching and learning, the demand has remained higher than anticipated for student accommodation and since March 2021 has seen a significant rise month-on-month.

Consistent with a report produced by student accommodation provider UniHomes, UK universities have seen steady demand, which has helped maintain rental yield in surrounding areas.  By analysing rental yields in postcodes surrounding the main campuses of the top 100 UK universities and then comparing how they’d changed since the start of 2020, has provided some interesting and positive data, and has shown how some areas have even seen an increase in rental yields.

How have students enjoyed their student living during the pandemic?

Max Bielby, Managing Director of Vita Student, who has 21 PBSA developments across the UK, commented that: “We have proven that we can look after our students in even the most challenging of circumstances.

“We have been inundated with gifts, letters and cards from students thanking our team for looking after them at such a crucial time.”

According to a Knight Frank survey, 69% of students living in PBSA were pleased with their provider’s approach to the pandemic and the support they had from staff when they had to either isolate or shield. This is compared to just 25% who were living in privately rented properties.

Co-Founder and Director of UniHomes, Phil Greaves, explains: “Despite the pandemic and the restrictions imposed around face-to-face teaching for much of the last university year, we’ve seen a consistent demand from students looking for properties”

“We understand that living away from home to attend university is a massive part of the student experience.”

“Even now, most will have secured a property for the next academic year, however, we are still witnessing a high demand in key areas.”

“This demonstrates the strength of the sector and with the appetite for student rentals only set to grow, we should see this positive trend continue as we approach the new university year.”

What is Student accommodation rental demand looking like in 2021?

There has been a notable increase for searches of student accommodation in Q2 of 2021,  triggered by when a million students headed back to university for face-to-face learning in May.

Back in February 2021, we heard the Government announce that in-person learning can start again for those students on practical or practice-based courses and needing access to on-campus equipment and facilities.

UniHomes reported a 68% increase in students searching for accommodation to rent. With student rental enquires rising 234% compared to the year previous.

With the government’s process of easing the lockdown restrictions through 2021 – inline with the UK’s vaccine roll-out – both domestic and international students are hankering to get back to normal university life.

Accommodation bookings for Vita Student, who has 21 PBSA developments across the UK, has seen a huge increase since March compared to earlier in the year.  And it reports three times more bookings being taken for September 2021.

Encouraging reports, makes for very positive reading, after the January 2021 UCAS application deadline:

  • UCAS experienced the greatest increase of applicants since 2010.
  • 48,030 students submitted an application to study at a UK Higher Education Institution.
  • January 2021 applications equated to an 8% year-on-year increase.
  • Domestic applications from the UK were 11.6% higher than last year.
  • International applications from outside the UK were also higher.
  • Applications from outside the EU increased by 17.1%.
  • Rise in student demand, specifically from China (+21.5%) and India (+25.5%)

A number of international students that were planning to start their university course 2020/21 deferred the start dates until 2021/2022, and it’s now heading for an optimistically normal start to the next academic year.

UniHomes data recently showed from a Letting Agent feedback study, that there is extreme optimism across the board about students increased demand for rental accommodation.

Interestingly, the survey realised the top 3 demand drivers for student accommodation this year, in order of importance:

  1. The return of domestic students (May 2021)
  2. The ease of travel restrictions for international students
  3. Influx of new students for the new academic year

Phil Greaves, Co-Founder of UniHomes, commented: “It may seem like a while away, but the new academic year is fast approaching, and this means an uplift in the number of students searching the rental market for a term-time home. Demand for student accommodation remains very high despite the uncertainty caused by Covid.”

Student accommodation rental demand bounce-back

It’s refreshing and comforting to hear from student accommodation providers that they have kept their students happy and safe during one of the most challenging times.

And now with UK Government safety measures and restrictions easing, face-to-face learning returning for those that require it, UCAS reporting applications are at their highest since 2010; universities and purpose-built student accommodation providers will receive the demand-surge that they have all been anticipating for 2021.


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