Unite looks to build more student homes

STUDENT accommodation specialist Unite is mulling moves into Dundee and St Andrews as it seeks to capitalise on record demand for university places in Scotland.

Students at the University of St Andrews. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The firm, which last week reported a 34 per cent jump in half-year earnings, has sites in 23 cities across the UK and is already planning to expand its presence in Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

Work on the £20 million development of the listed Causewayend Primary School in the Granite City is due to start next year, along with the £38m project at St Leonards in Edinburgh, which is currently a Homebase store.

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Unite’s strategy director, Paul Harris, said: “Although we’re very confident with the 23 we’re in, we have a list of nine or ten other cities we’re constantly looking at to see if the right sort of land might come up.”

Harris added that Dundee and St Andrews were on the firm’s potential target list, although the latter “has its own difficulties in terms of building there, as land is not plentiful”.

He told Scotland on Sunday: “If the right piece of land became available that would be something we’d have a serious look at.”

Unite provides housing for more than 43,000 students, including more than 4,000 across its locations in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Recent figures from the University and Colleges Admissions Service showed that a record 43,170 people living in Scotland applied to study at a university north of the Border this year – a rise of 2 per cent on 2013.

Scottish students who stay on home turf do not pay tuition fees, but those from the rest of the UK pay up to £9,000 a year if they want to earn a degree north of the Border.

It has been argued that this scenario could be illegal under EU law if there was a Yes vote in next month’s independence referendum, but Harris said Unite still feels Scotland is a “very positive market”.

He added: “As things stand, we’re very comfortable, but we need to keep a close eye on what happens with the vote.”