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The rent university students pay for halls of residence has risen by 60% over the past decade to reach an average of £7,347, surpassing the reach of the average student maintenance loan, a survey shows.

A survey of nearly 500,000 beds in student halls shows that rents have been steadily creeping up, with prices 4.4% higher than last year, and 16% higher than before the pandemic. As a result, many students are forced to work part-time alongside their studies, live at home or seek help from family to make ends meet, since average maintenance loans, which are also intended to cover living expenses, are £6,900.

The report from the National Union of Students and housing charity Unipol warns that the cost of rent for student rooms is rising far more rapidly than inflation, that there is a growing scarcity of genuinely affordable rooms and that choice is narrowing as private halls providers, which now operate the majority of student housing, focus on offering luxury studio apartments, often aimed at international students, rather than cheaper alternatives.

London is especially unaffordable for students, with average rents totalling £10,857, 61% more than the average for the rest of the UK.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, the vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “The affordability of student accommodation affects students’ educational experience, and also has a major impact on access and widening participation. It’s disgraceful that so many young people are priced out, either deterred or unable to apply to university, or have their options severely limited by where they can afford to live.”

The report also highlighted universities’ growing reliance on profit-seeking private providers, which operated 70% of the beds surveyed. The number of beds offered by these providers has more than doubled from 142,439 beds in 2012-13 to 361,717 in 2021-22, and the report predicted this would continue since yields “continue to outperform rival opportunities in the property sector”.

The report stated that bed spaces run by private operators are nearly a quarter (24%) more expensive than those run by universities, and the gap is growing as private providers tend to price themselves on the basis of what competitors are charging rather than what students can afford. For example, rent for a self-catered room in private halls costs an average of £5,157 for university-owned accommodation, £5,985 for private housing contracted by the university, and £7,264 for completely private halls.

The NUS is calling for universities to keep a tighter rein on rents charged by the private halls they work with; to offer more cheaper rooms, since the most affordable accommodation – standard shared bathroom rooms – are in decline; and to support disadvantaged students with housing bursaries.