Navigation Toggle Icon

Journey to a million: How do we accommodate a million applicants?

18 May 2023

Journey to a million: How do we accommodate a million applicants?

  • UCAS is projecting that by 2030, there could be up to one million applicants for Higher Education in the United Kingdom. 
  • Unite Students have partnered with Knight Frank to help drive the UCAS ‘Journey to a Million’ debate. 
  • Today, Unite Students share their essay – What does the Journey to a Million mean for student accommodation? – co-authored with Knight Frank. 

New insight from UCAS is highlighting the rapidly increasing pressure that is likely to faced in the student housing sector, with a projected 30% increase in higher education applicants by 2030.

UCAS, in partnership with Knight Frank and Unite Students, has invited 50 key thinkers from across the UK as part of a national debate to give their view on tackling the challenges and seizing the opportunities. UCAS will share this broad and diverse set of Journey to a Million essays on

There are currently 2.2 million full-time students in the UK, equivalent to around three students per available bed in purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA). UCAS, in partnership with Knight Frank and Unite Students, is highlighting that in 2030 there could be a million higher education applicants in a single cycle – a quarter of a million higher than today, and double the numbers seen in 2006. Projections made by Unite Students, which also looked at growth in the postgraduate students, suggest that by the end of the decade there will be an additional 400,000 full-time students seeking some form of student accommodation.

Key contributions to UCAS’ national debate on the projected Journey to a Million focus on the challenges of student experience and accommodation in a more competitive world and include insight such as:

  • “The end of the decade may seem a long way off – most students who will be applying for the 2030 cycle haven’t started secondary school yet – but development takes time. Taking a scheme through planning to completion takes anything from three to five years. That puts an even greater urgency on the need to adequately plan for this expected growth now.” – Neil Armstrong and Merelina Sykes, Joint Heads of Student Property at Knight Frank and Richard Smith, Chief Executive at Unite Students.
  • “Developing a significant volume of new purpose-built accommodation or growing the size of any private rental market will take many years. Working with local councils and partners now is a necessary foundational step in preparing for a future we can see coming towards us.” Kieron Broadhead, Senior Executive Director, Students and Infrastructure, and Deputy Vice-President (Operations), University of Southampton.
  • “As applicants and student numbers increase, there will also be pressures on the wider student experience. In planning for growth, institutions will need to take a responsible approach that builds in the necessary support for areas such as mental health and employability. Other areas, such as such as student accommodation will not be totally within the direct control of institutions, but they will need to work with partners on a planned and integrated approach, working not only with accommodation providers but also with local authorities and community stakeholders. Again, making sure the student voice is part of this will be critical.” Chris Hale, writing in his former role as Director of Policy at Universities UK.

Sander Kristel, Chief Operating Officer at UCAS, said: “Accommodation plays a big part in student experience – and our surveys show its importance is increasing as a decision-making factor.

“The Journey to a Million applicants in 2030 presents a range of challenges and opportunities – with student accommodation one of the most high profile. Not only do we need to consider how we cater for the surge in demand from students, but also what happens when the 18-year-old population starts to decline after 2030.

Richard Smith, Chief Executive at Unite Students, said: “The UK has long been an attractive choice for domestic and international students. Now demand is set to rise even further adding to the UK’s shortfall of high-quality, affordable student accommodation. Purpose-built student accommodation providers, including Unite Students, have a valuable role to play alongside university partners to help meet this challenge, but action is required now to plan for this expected growth. PBSA is not just about providing a bed to sleep in. High-quality accommodation built specifically with students in mind has a range of positive impacts on those who live there, from improved mental health togreater success and, we believe, better degree outcomes.”

Neil Armstrong, Joint Head of Student Property at Knight Frank, said:  “As UCAS kicks off this important debate, we are proud to be invited to join the conversation in partnership with Unite. It is critical that, as we near the huge milestone of having one million student applicants by 2030, we plan ahead for the strain this will inevitably put on the need and demand for student housing. In many popular university towns and cities, the availability of student accommodation is far outweighed by the number of students searching for a place to live. The planning, development and delivery of purpose built student accommodation takes time, which puts a greater urgency on the need to adequately plan for the expected future growth of the UK’s student population.”




Notes to Editors

For further information, please contact Unite Students press office on 0117 4506300 or email:


About Unite Students

Unite Students is the UK’s largest owner, manager, and developer of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) serving the country’s world-leading higher education sector. We provide homes to 70,000 students across 157 properties in 23 leading university towns and cities. We currently partner with over 60 universities across the UK.

Our people are driven by a common purpose: to provide a ‘Home for Success’ for the students who live with us. Unite Students’ accommodation is safe and secure, high quality, and affordable. Students live predominantly in en-suite study bedrooms with rents covering all bills, insurance, 24-hour security and high-speed Wi-Fi. We also achieved a five-star British Safety Council rating in our last audit.

We are committed to raising standards in the student accommodation sector for our customers, investors, and employees. This is why our new Sustainability Strategy, launched in 2021, includes a commitment to become net zero carbon across our operations and developments by 2030.

Founded in 1991 in Bristol, the Unite Group is an award-winning Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), listed on the London Stock Exchange. For more information, visit Unite Group’s corporate website or the Unite Students’ site


About UCAS

UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, is an independent charity, and the UK’s shared admissions service for higher education.

Our services support young people making post-18 choices, as well as mature learners, by providing information, advice, and guidance to inspire and facilitate educational progression to university, college or a degree apprenticeship.

We manage almost three million applications, from around 700,000 people each year, for full-time undergraduate courses at over 380 universities and colleges across the UK.

We also provide a wide range of research, consultancy and advisory services to schools, colleges, careers services, professional bodies, and employers, including apprenticeships.

We’re a successful and fast-growing organisation, which helps hundreds of thousands of people every year. We’re committed to delivering a first-class service to all our customers — they’re at the heart of everything we do.