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Unite Students backs debate on access to UK higher education

27 March 2023

  • Unite Students partners with UCAS, alongside Knight Frank, on a national debate around the high number of higher education applicants expected by the end of the decade
  • UCAS predicts there could be up to a million higher education applicants in a single year, by 2030, up from almost three quarters of a million today
  • As part of the ‘Journey to a Million’ debate, five key challenges are being highlighted, plus the opportunities created by this increased demand

New figures released from UCAS today indicate the UK could see up to 30% more higher education applicants over the remainder of the decade, intensifying competition for places and posing risks to disadvantaged students.

UCAS projects that there could be up to a million higher education applicants in a single year in 2030, up from more than three quarters of a million in 2022.

In response to its projections, UCAS is launching a national debate – highlighting five key challenges and opportunities created by increased demand during this potential Journey to a Million.

The Journey to a Million will affect all aspects of how people gain a place in higher education, from the point they consider their options, to the way they connect to them, to their experiences whilst studying and entering the labour market.

UCAS, in partnership with Unite Students and Knight Frank, has invited 50 key thinkers from across the UK to give their view on tackling the challenges. UCAS will share this broad and diverse set of essays publicly in the coming weeks culminating in a final report published in partnership in the summer.

The first release today includes new forecasting driven by UCAS data science capabilities looking at where future demand will come from, and how the growing 18-year-old demographic will drive future competition, as well contributions from education ministers across the UK on what this means for the four nations, as well the need to protect the needs of disadvantaged students.

50 key thinkers have contributed to the debate, and over the next three months will tackle key themes such as:

  • How do we continue to widen participation?
  • What are the answers to the imbalance of supply and demand?
  • How do we support students in a more competitive environment?
  • How do we promote the full range of choices to students?
  • What is the future student experience?

Richard Smith, CEO, Unite Students said:

“We are proud to play our part in supporting students to achieve their best. Our purpose is to provide a Home for Success for all students while they study at university and this important collection of essays will help shape the debate, in partnership with UCAS and Knight Frank, as the demand for higher education places rises to one million by 2030.

“As the UK’s largest provider of student accommodation, we are focused on widening participation for a more diverse student body as demand for places increases over the coming years.”

Clare Marchant, Chief Executive of UCAS, said:

“Today we have highlighted the challenges and opportunities presented by increasing demand this decade, with up to a million higher education applicants in a single year in 2030. Ultimately this is an economic challenge as much as an education one and will have profound impacts on the current and future shape of the UK.

“With the increasing demand largely driven by the growing 18-year-old demographic, we can see the challenge on the horizon as this group progress through school and college. If we do not collectively act today, we risk missing a significant economic opportunity, whilst also leaving a generation behind.

“It’s vital that these students have access to a supply of high-quality opportunities – including undergraduate courses and apprenticeships – and that the interests of disadvantaged are not forgotten during this period of increasing competition.

“This is a horizon impacting those students at the heart of the services UCAS provides and so we have invited 50 key thinkers to outline how we can address this increasing demand. It is vital we work together to unlock the supply of opportunities to students across all routes, ensuring that the growth in demand does not lead to a growth in wasted talent. We seek, by igniting the discussion, to play our part in making the Journey to a Million a successful one.”


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