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Survey: Summary and video

9 June 2020

Students keen to return to university to study and socialise, survey finds

Almost 9 out of 10 students are keen to get back on university campuses once it is safe to do so – and their parents agree.

We carried out research of UK students and parents, with Opinium, who polled 500 students and 500 parents for their thoughts on COVID-19, student safety and returning to university.

The survey found 89% of students are keen to get on campus once it is safe to do so. 79% of students believe that living away from home in accommodation, or being on campus, is as key to their university experience as lectures and tutorials. And the majority of students prefer more traditional methods of learning, with only 14% saying they prefer remote learning, compared to 45% who say they like remote learning a lot less.

Students are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their time at university, with 91% being worried about disruption to studies, and 79% concerned about the impact on socialising. However, 86% of students place their trust in universities to provide the necessary safety measures to keep them safe.

Students’ current home is seen by most parents as a safe place to live, but parents rated purpose-built student accommodation (university or private halls) as the next safest, attracting around three times the votes of shared houses or living alone.

And we found parents’ concerns mirror those of their children.

78% of parents are concerned about the disruption to the social side of the university experience for their children, while 69% are concerned about isolation and loneliness.

Increased hygiene and cleanliness, unsurprisingly, are of huge importance to both students and their parents:

  • 97% of students say a robust cleaning regime at their accommodation before they return or start university is important – as do 98% of parents
  • 95% of students would also want to see an increased provision of hand sanitiser – as would 94% of parents


Our approach to keeping students safe and secure, includes:

  • Enhanced cleaning standards, including a quality assured six-stage cleaning and inspection process for student rooms. We are the only purpose-built student accommodation provider with a 5-star British Safety Council rating
  • A home charter for all students providing guidance on how to protect themselves and others including advice on self-isolation, cleaning and hygiene
  • Provision of welfare support and professional response to student welfare incidents and concerns
  • A safe community to live in, including the MyUnite app and its uChat feature to connect households and neighbours virtually prior to arrival
  • Compliant social distancing with clear guidance and markers, with automatic hand sanitiser stations in all properties
  • On-site staff trained on COVID-19 safe and secure procedures, welfare leads and security teams supported by student services professionals
  • 24/7, 365-days-a-year Emergency Contact Centre


Richard Smith, Chief Executive of Unite Students, said:

“A university education has the power to positively transform lives. The results of this survey confirms that the social skills and independence that university provides are hugely valued by students. This remains true as we all continue to respond to the pandemic with the survey providing valuable feedback on the support needed.” 

“At Unite we are committed to providing students with the safe and secure environment that they want. Safety and security was our focus before the pandemic and will continue to be the focus moving forward. As the only student accommodation provider to hold the highest 5* safety rating from the British Safety Council, we are aware of our responsibilities to do the right thing. In response to the pandemic we have reviewed our ways of operating across our entire business, investigating and implementing new ways of operating. This focus will support the students that choose to live with us enabling them to enjoy and get the most out of their university experience, something both students and parents have told us they want.”


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

“Higher education institutions are keen to get back to normal as quickly as they can, so long as no one is put at risk in the process. This survey conclusively proves students are keen to get back to their institutions too. The high levels of trust in how universities are responding to the crisis is impressive. As a sector, we must continue implementing the right measures to protect students and staff, so that this goodwill is not squandered.”

“The students in the survey display a mature concern about the impact of the crisis on their social lives, their future careers and their mental health, as well as on their academic studies. It is vital that institutions, support services and accommodation providers work jointly together to ensure the next academic year is as rewarding as possible for all concerned.”

“We are lucky to have one of the best higher education systems in the world, so I well understand why students are so keen to get back to campus. If I were leaving school this year, I would still be looking forward to getting away to study for my degree.”


For more information, see our Safe and Secure Accommodation Factsheet