Unite sees improved overseas demand for student housing


Demand for student rooms is picking up again after the huge uncertainty triggered by the Coalition’s introduction of £9,000-a-year tuition fees, according to the boss of the UK’s biggest accommodation provider.

Unite Group chief executive Mark Allan said reservations for the 2013-14 financial year stood at 62 per cent of its rooms — up from 59 per cent this time last year — as overseas students flock to the UK from Asia to study.

In London, where Unite has 20 per cent of its rooms, international students account for three-quarters of occupants — some paying as much as £350 a week for its smartest studio flats in Bloomsbury.

The fall-off in demand from UK students due to the rise in tuition fees last year also meant overseas students accounted for more than half of Unite’s directly let rooms for the first time. Chinese students now represent 18 per cent of those booking their rooms direct with Unite.

Demand for places from within the UK is also recovering after a 3.5 per cent rise in applications from admissions service Ucas. “These are clear signs that the recent instability in the sector resulting from tuition fee increases is beginning to abate,” Allan said.

Business has also been helped by recent moves such as the scrapping of fines for universities which recruit too many students as well as allowing them to recruit as many students with ABB A-Level grades as they like.

Unite is focusing its development pipeline on the more attractive London market, with two new schemes planned for completion in the capital next year.

Unite, which made a £1 million profit by hosting 3,600 Olympic Association guests last summer, boosted income from its portfolio by 74 per cent to £19.1 million as rents rose 3 per cent. This gave it room to more than double the dividend to 4p. The shares rose 5.65p to 299.65p today.

Numis analyst Chris Millington said: “Unite has produced a strong set of results on all measures — which is particularly creditable given the change to university funding in the year.”