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UK Student Accommodation Investments Reach £750 Million in Q1 2024

Knight Frank’s latest update on the UK student housing market indicates a robust start to 2024, with investment volumes reaching nearly £750 million, demonstrating continued confidence in the sector despite economic uncertainties.

Investment Surge in Student Accommodation
The first quarter of 2024 saw a significant increase in investment in purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) in the UK, with a total of 21 transactions amounting to nearly £750 million. This marks a substantial rise from the £148 million recorded in the same period in 2023, although it falls short of the high marks set in 2021 and 2022. Knight Frank’s Student Property Team advised on 78% of these transactions, cementing its leadership in the sector. Merelina Sykes, Joint Head of Student Property at Knight Frank, commented on the sector’s resilience, “The UK student accommodation sector demonstrated its resilience in the first quarter, attracting significant investment despite the broader economic headwinds.”

Changing Dynamics and Market Stability
The report from Knight Frank also notes a shift in deal structures, influenced by the ongoing challenges in the funding market. While prime assets in top university towns continue to attract straightforward funding, more secondary locations are increasingly turning to joint venture structures. Additionally, the slowing of build cost inflation to 3.1% in 2023 from a high of 15.5% in 2022 has added stability, supporting the viability of both new and existing development projects. London leads with the largest pipeline of approximately 26,000 student beds under construction or planned, followed by other significant markets like Manchester, Bristol, and Nottingham.

Political Factors and Market Outlook
The report underscores the influence of politics and policy on the student housing market, particularly as a general election approaches. Katie O’Neill, Head of Student Property Research at Knight Frank, highlights the potential impact of policy decisions on the sector, “With money markets betting on two interest rate cuts in 2024, any improvements on the debt environment will boost transactional activity, but the focal point this year for the PBSA market will be on politics and policy.” She also pointed out the recent changes to the student visa route and warned against potential over-corrections that could harm the financial health of the UK’s higher education sector. O’Neill stressed the importance of recognising the economic benefits that international students bring to the country.

This first-quarter performance and ongoing adjustments in investment strategies indicate a cautiously optimistic outlook for the UK’s PBSA market, as it continues to adapt to economic, political, and policy changes.