There has been an unprecedented demand for student accommodation in Greater Manchester since the Covid-19 pandemic, which culminated in students being unable to secure accommodation for the 2021/22 and 2022/23 academic years. This was well documented in the local press, with some students being asked to commute to their Manchester universities from Liverpool or Huddersfield. In another instance, a university offered students a financial incentive to hand-back their university managed accommodation so that it could be offered to other students.
So, what has caused the imbalance of student accommodation in Greater Manchester?
Regionally, as well as nationally, there are more students enrolled at higher education [HE] providers than ever before. Greater Manchester is home to the largest student population in the UK, outside of London. Between the 2014/15 and 2019/20 academic years, there was a gradual year-on-year increase of students attending the eight HE providers in the Greater Manchester region. Over this five-year period, there was a growth of 8,885 students, from 96,300 in 2014/15 to 105,145 in 2019/20 (see Figure 1 below). Then, in the 2020/21 academic year, there was a sharp increase of 11,520 students enrolled at HE providers in Greater Manchester – more growth than the previous five-years put together. The data for the 2021/22 academic year was published in January 2023 and shows that student enrolments in Greater Manchester continued to climb at a higher rate than pre-pandemic levels.
This growth meant that at the start of the 2021/22 academic year, there were 121,305 students enrolled at Greater Manchester’s HE providers. The city region’s four universities make up 99% of the enrolments (119,800). The University of Manchester has the most students enrolled (46,410), followed by Manchester Metropolitan University (36,980), The University of Salford (25,415), and The University of Bolton (10,995).
Figure 1 Students Enrolled at Greater Manchester HE Providers 2014/15 - 2021/22
Source: Lichfields analysis using HESA data (2015-2022)
The majority of HE students move into a term-time residence. Nationally, 52% of students live in university maintained property, private-sector halls, or other rented term-time accommodation. This increases to 55% for students attending HE providers in the North West of England. This means that the growth of student enrolments for the 2020/21 academic year alone generated a demand for circa. 6,300 additional student bedspaces in Greater Manchester. Across the 2020/21 and 2021/22 academic years together, enrolment growth generated a demand for approximately 9,000 additional student bedspaces.
It is clear from the measures employed by Greater Manchester’s HE providers to offer students accommodation for the 2021/22 academic year, that the supply of purpose built student accommodation [PBSA] has not managed to keep pace with the sharp rise in demand.
PBSA, whether university maintained or private, is typically the preferred accommodation choice for students because of its additional security, tailored facilities, social living spaces, and simplified letting arrangements. However, the lack of PBSA in Greater Manchester has left many students with no other option but to enter the mainstream rental market. There is now intense competition between working households and students for rental accommodation in Greater Manchester. This is one of a number of a number of factors that has led to a ‘perfect storm’ for Greater Manchester’s rental market – with rents reported to have increased between 20%-40% across the city region over the past year.
Despite the lack of supply, the emerging Places for Everyone Joint Development Plan [PfE] for nine of the Greater Manchester districts does not identify any specific allocations for PBSA. PfE acknowledges that Greater Manchester has one of the largest student concentrations in Europe, and supports the continued growth of the university sector (draft Policy JP-P 5). However, PfE draft Policy JP-H3 states that housing provision to accommodate specific groups, including students, will be dealt with through district local plans.
The continued growth of the universities, in line with PfE draft Policy JP-P 5, will drive additional demand for student bedspaces in Greater Manchester. This could create a greater imbalance of student bedspaces in the short-to-medium-term, until the Districts’ Local Plans address student accommodation provision. In the interim, there is evidence of a need for PBSA development to address the imbalance. Additional PBSA development can also help to free-up private rental stock by accommodating students that would otherwise be forced into the mainstream rental market.
Most Local Planning Authorities now require developers to demonstrate the need for PBSA. This is particularly pertinent to locations, such as Manchester, where several PBSA developments have recently been consented, or are currently under construction.
Bedspace: A robust evidence-led argument to support new PBSA
Lichfields’ product Bedspace is an evidence-based solution to demonstrate the need for PBSA. By undertaking a quantitative analysis of current and past trends in student growth, and analysing it against the current supply pipeline and growth strategies of HE providers, Bedspace can identify the capacity for further PBSA in any defined location.
How Bedspace can help stakeholders address Greater Manchester’s student squeeze:
PBSA Developers – Bedspace can provide a robust evidence-led argument to support new PBSA development in a given university location in Greater Manchester. It can also be used as a tool to inform early investment decisions.
Local Planning Authorities – Bedspace can understand the student accommodation needs of the Greater Manchester districts and provide robust evidence to support policies and allocations in emerging development plans.
HE Providers – Bedspace can inform the expansion of the HE provider’s existing accommodation offer by understanding the mix of student accommodation in the area.
Please get in touch if you want to discuss Bedspace further.
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 HESA Data (2022)
 The University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, The University of Salford, The University of Bolton, Royal Northern College of Music, Futureworks, Nazarene Theological College, and Luther King House Educational Trust
 Lichfields analysis based on HESA data 2014-2021
 HESA Data (2021)
 Lichfields analysis based on HESA data (2021)