PBSA still in short supply across the UK in 2024 - 05/04/2024

Every September, headlines about the shortage of student housing dominate the news, with universities resorting to creative measures such as fitting out common rooms with bunk beds to accommodate the influx of students. This annual struggle has become a familiar narrative during Freshers Week in university towns and cities across the country.

To gain insights into the current state of the purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) market, Savills conducted an analysis of 20 of the largest student cities in the UK. These cities are home to over 1.3 million full-time students, yet only half a million operational beds are available.

Many of these cities exhibit high student-to-bed ratios, indicating a significant imbalance between supply and demand. The student-to-bed ratio is a key metric used to measure this balance, representing the number of students competing for each available bed offered by universities or private providers.

Savills reveals that the overall student-to-bed ratio across these 20 markets is 2.7. Five cities have ratios exceeding 3.0, with Glasgow topping the list at 3.8, followed closely by London and Bristol at 3.6 and 3.5, respectively. In contrast, only three cities have ratios below 2.0: Liverpool (1.8), Sheffield (1.7), and Oxford (1.5).

To address the shortage of student accommodation, it is imperative to increase the supply of PBSA in the short term. Many cities have ramped up their efforts to deliver new accommodation, with a focus on sites under construction or with planning consent as of February 2024.

Bristol leads the way in the short-term pipeline, with plans to increase PBSA supply by 45% of existing operational stock. This would significantly reduce the student-to-bed ratio in the city from 3.5 to 2.4. Similarly, London is poised to see a notable decrease in its ratio from 3.6 to 2.9, with a 24% increase in PBSA numbers.

In contrast, Glasgow's pipeline represents only 11% of its operational stock, resulting in a limited impact on the student-to-bed ratio. Despite some improvement, the city's ratio would decrease only marginally to 3.4, maintaining the largest imbalance between supply and demand among UK cities.

In conclusion, addressing the shortage of student accommodation requires concerted efforts to increase supply, particularly in cities with high student-to-bed ratios. While progress is being made in some areas, more needs to be done to ensure that every student has access to safe and affordable housing. Failure to address this issue could have significant implications for student welfare and academic success.