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All grown up? Market maturity and investment in London's purpose-built student accommodation sector

Nicola Livingstone (Bartlett School of Planning, University College London, London, UK)
Danielle Sanderson (Bartlett School of Planning, University College London, London, UK)

Journal of Property Investment & Finance

ISSN: 1463-578X

Article publication date: 9 November 2021

Issue publication date: 28 September 2022




The UK's purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) sector has seen significant institutional investment in recent decades. This paper unpacks contemporary trends and perspectives on the sector. It questions whether PBSA has moved from being an “alternative” to “mainstream” residential asset class, framing the analysis through the lens of market maturity.


The methods triangulate perspectives drawn from literature on the evolution of PBSA as an asset class with illustrations of investment trends across the UK between 2005 and 2020 using data from Real Capital Analytics (RCA), combined with findings from 40 semi-structured interviews with investors and stakeholders in PBSA in the UK London is the focus of the work, whilst other regional cities are integrated for comparison.


The results demonstrate that London's PBSA market is ahead of trends currently being replicated in regional cities. However, the regions currently offer greater return potential and opportunities for risk taking compared to London, where yields are compressed, and the market is considered lower risk. The concept of maturity remains useful as a framework for evaluating markets, however a more granular analysis of sectors is necessary to further understand asset classes within sectors. PBSA continues to trade at a premium across the UK; it is considered the most mature residential asset class.

Practical implications

The emergence of PBSA as an asset class continues to play a developing role within the residential sector and UK investment market. Risk, value and local context remain key when integrating PBSA into institutional portfolios, and as the first to consider the UK market from a qualitative research approach, this research provides a snapshot of these influences in 2021.


Our approach offers original insight into investment trends across the UK and is the first to focus reflections on the London market specifically. The research highlights the role of PBSA as a vanguard asset class for investors into residential, situating its growth within the framework of market maturity and drawing out market nuances from interviews.



Funding: The authors would like to acknowledge that this research was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Open Research Area (ORA) as part of an ongoing funded research project, code ES/S015078/1, on “What is Governed in Cities” (2019 – 2022) (


Livingstone, N. and Sanderson, D. (2022), "All grown up? Market maturity and investment in London's purpose-built student accommodation sector", Journal of Property Investment & Finance, Vol. 40 No. 6, pp. 571-587.



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