University operators are hoping for a much-needed bounce in leasing deals over the next few weeks as a fresh wave of students prepare to start courses on the back of today’s A-level results. 

With pandemic-related uncertainty over demand for student beds, owners and operators of university property have been fearing a drop in income when the new academic year begins next month. 

Yet today’s A-level results are expected to trigger an active period for the UK student accommodation sector, with over two thirds of all applicants still to confirm their course.  

“From an investment perspective, there are signs that activity is picking up and students returning to university is a welcome sign. Leasing activity for purpose-built student accommodation remains strong, with over 70% of private beds already let for September 2020,” said  James Kingdom, a UK research associate at JLL. 

He added: “Total bookings are ahead of where they were 12 months ago, largely as a result of existing students rebooking, and demand from new students is also up.” 

On the back of today’s A-level results, Knight Frank has released a snapshot survey of six of the largest UK student accommodation operators who between them control 170,000 beds in the sector –25% of the UK total.  

Currently bookings look to be between 70% and 85% of what was expected for this cycle overall.  

The average across the operators surveyed is 77% of beds booked for this coming cycle.  

Operators across all markets will be gearing up for what is likely to be a more important clearing period this year with the expectation that more students will be placed at university through this process, the agency said. 

Neil Armstrong, joint head of student property at Knight Frank, said: “The results of Knight Frank’s snapshot poll demonstrate students’ ongoing commitment to go to university this year, despite the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic. PBSA operators have seen higher levels of demand than first anticipated, and are going into the ‘clearing’ process with an average occupancy rate of 77%.  

“Considering the ongoing market headwinds, underpinned by the strict social distancing measures and restrictions on international travel, it is reassuring to see that PBSA is weathering the storm well in terms of both occupancy rates and investor appetite for best in class accommodation assets.”