Who knows when normality will return. I have two offspring at University, one final year and one first year, both have had what should be amongst the best times of their lives curtailed, especially the elder one, who finishes with a damp squib. Sadly, anyone starting in September will probably equally have a flying start (NOT!) to their university life. So is there much point in starting university life this year, for some absolutely yes, especially perhaps for those who take their studies and attainment of degrees as the number one reason for higher education, for others who see it more as a lifestyle right of passage maybe not.

According to stats I have read, around 23% of the potential 20/21 intake are now seriously considering deferring till the following year. Now, if like me, you are currently of the view that life will have to return to close to normality at some point in the next year for whatever reason, I hazard a guess that the vast majority of those deferring now will be itching to start Uni next October. They will have found great difficulty getting temp jobs now and will not have been able to travel, they will be bored and be fed up of home and will want to get up and go.

So, whilst the student accommodation market will have its difficulties this year, with the loss of overseas students as well, next year there is the strong potential for 123% of young adults looking to start. Universities only have so much accommodation stock and may well find it extremely difficult to offer or honour the first-year guarantee pledge. This promise to house 1st years on campus or in University owned halls is seen as critical to many both form universities , seeing it as a tool to entice students to commit to them first and as an extremely attractive proposition to the students who need the idea of being guaranteed a social life in their first year away from home, important to a lot of parents as well.

Houghall Court, Durham

In addition, 21/22 and the following years could easily see a spike in demand when unemployment begins its inevitable rise, especially amongst the young and traditionally, when this happens, one of the first recourses is to go to Uni, not only because it’s better than having no job but also because more and more youngsters will need more and better qualifications for when they enter the job market three or four years hence.

It is probably true that there will be a dip in overseas students, in particular from Europe however such wannabe academics account for only a small proportion of total student numbers, in the region of 5/6%. The main overseas contingent come from China, the Far East and India and according to my operator sources who are busy taking stock with such customers, there is still strong appetite to study in the UK, due to the fabulous prestige attached to having a solid UK institution on your CV and the fun lifestyle that goes with it. Chinese and Indian student love studying here and why not.

Perhaps however, the principal reason why we should be confident about the medium term in terms of numbers is that by 2030, there will be an additional 300,000 British 18 year olds coming through the system, partially fueled by the well recorded demographic rise, as opposed to the recent dip.  For years, the number of this age group entering the workplace/higher education has been falling however we are now well into the upward curve. With about 130 universities, that is over 2,300 additional heads to attract per university, that is a large proportion for many and will mean that in the next few years demand should be increasing, especially as we all hope, the memory of the virus will be fading or we have adjusted. In the unlikely event that some universities do go pop, these are likely to be in the lower echelons of the academic world and will mean those remaining will somehow have to take their share again lead to increased demand for accommodation.

We all need good news stories at the moment, and this is one that we at Jansons believe is the most likely outcome. Steady as she goes, get over this year to a brighter PBSA sector in the not too distant future.

Benjamin Roberts BSc MRICS

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