A-level results day: Soaring number of new students leaves 25,000 scrambling to find a bed

Exclusive: Shortage in student accommodation set to cause student digs crisis

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The Independent Online

Young people heading for university this autumn are facing a student digs crisis thanks to a chronic shortage of suitable university accommodation and George Osborne’s decision to abolish the cap on student numbers.

In the last academic year (2014-15) there were around 1.69 million full-time students in the UK. And in the coming year that figure is set to increase by at least 35,000 thanks to the lifting of restrictions on the number of students universities can accept.

Yet research conducted for The Independent by the property agent JLL suggests that the number of available student beds is only likely to increase by 10,000, leaving tens of thousands of students being forced into the expensive private rental market.

“An extra jump in student numbers will trigger a bigger than normal scramble for student accommodation. This will undoubtedly see those who miss out forced to look for any residential property in the private sector,” said Philip Hillman, student housing director at JLL. “As a result, they could be paying much larger rents than their peers, be forced to live far away from campus and miss out on the whole student experience of living with fellow students.”

Shelly Asquith of the National Union of Students said the failure of universities to build more residences and the refusal of governments to cap private rents was “condemning students to deeper levels of debt”.

Some private property firms are ploughing cash in to the student accommodation sector to capitalise on the burgeoning demand for student digs. In the first five months of this year, a record £4.2bn was spent on student housing blocks or land on which to build them, according to the property agent Savills. Nevertheless, JLL estimates that total beds across the UK in 2015-16 will only reach 545,000, up from 535,000 last year. That gives a ratio of students to available beds of 3.2, up from 3.1 the previous year.

In some parts of the country that ratio is still higher. In London the ratio was around 3.4 in 2013-14. In the East of England it was 4.1 and in Northern Ireland 5.9.

A record 409,000 students have accepted university places this autumn, and with Mark Allan, the chief executive of the student housing developer Unite, predicting an extra 100,000 people a year studying in the UK by 2018, the undersupply of digs is expected to get even worse.

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