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How student accommodation became less affordable and how it could be made more affordable

  • 15 February 2024

In a new paper from the Higher Education Policy Institute, Student Accommodation: The State of the Nation in 2024 (HEPI Policy Note 52), Martin Blakey, the former Chief Executive of the Leeds-based student housing charity Unipol, explains the changes in the student accommodation market that have led to higher rents.

Following the recent announcement that the maximum maintenance loan in England will increase by only 2.5% in 2024/25 and the fact that rents have been rising faster than maintenance support, the HEPI Policy Note outlines a possible a new approach, including:

  • introducing an adjustable energy supplement on rents, encouraging better use of energy;
  • organising flats in clusters of 12 to 20 students, around a central kitchen / leisure area;
  • smaller pod-sized rooms, perhaps of around 10m2, including en suite;
  • good communal spaces for lounge and study areas – especially important when rooms are smaller;
  • overnight security only or more co-operation with universities’ own security services;
  • buildings of around 300 to 350 student beds, to try and get the best fit on running costs; and
  • mixing up room sizes and facilities within one building, with rooms differentially priced.

Martin Blakey, author of the new report , said:

‘Student housing is an educational issue. If you cannot find safe, accessible and affordable accommodation, your learning suffers.

‘We have gradually reached a position where the current student accommodation model is not working well for many students. Factors such as higher interest rates, increased regulation and a changing pattern of higher education are all affecting the student housing market.

‘The time has come for a new approach, with more innovative provision and more sensible regulation alongside a more sustainable regime for student maintenance support.’

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

‘There is a serious cost-of-living crisis among students. Rents have been rising more slowly than inflation but they have been going up faster than the maintenance support on offer to students.

‘The costs of providing new student accommodation have shot up, thanks in large part to higher interest rates and increased construction costs. Meanwhile, the supply shared student houses of the sort of made famous by The Young Ones, which were once the norm for second and third-year students, has reduced.

‘Parsimonious Ministers have been reluctant to increase maintenance loans anything like in line with actual inflation, meaning many students are having to work ever more hours, which can affect their studies. Students from more disadvantaged backgrounds in particular are losing out.

‘We need creative thinking and innovation. Martin Blakey’s proposals offer one possible way ahead. We hope people will engage with the ideas and propose others of their own.’

Note for Editors

HEPI was established in 2002 to influ8ence the higher education debate with evidence. We are UK-wide, independent and non-partisan. We are funded by organisations and higher education institutions that wish to support vibrant policy discussions, as well as through our own events. HEPI is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity.


  1. Ella says:

    We also need to consider who owns the accomodation. Where student housing is owned by firms registered in offshore tax havens – which a huge amount of it is – then money from student loans is leaving the country. We need student housing to contribute to the economy, not drain it.

  2. Albert Wright says:

    Martin’s suggestions seem very sensible and should be implemented as soon as possible so that student accommodation can be more affordable particularly for those students with lower incomes.

    However, implementation is likley to take some time, possibly a decade, as it looks as though rather than converting an existing building you would need to find suitable land for new build of the new model suggested, to get best value.

    A side affect of new student pod style accommodation would be that it would create a separate market, unlikely to be sought by non students and so increase housing stock, which should also lessen demand and may slow down competition and result in lower average rents in the area.

    With the shift to working from home, it may be that current office buildings could be repurposed as student accommodation as more office space comes onto the market.

    Another way to help might be to increase the number of students that go to a local University while staying at home or as a twist, for students to stay local but move out of the family home and into another home in the area that had a spare bedroom owned by someone else.

    It may also be possible, where a student would prefer to move to another town or city to arrange a swap with a sudent who was trying to do the same but currently in another town or city. Several local authorities run council property swaps already for local tenants.

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