Risk 11: Capacity issues

Students may not have equal opportunity to access limited resources related to higher education, such as suitable accommodation.


Increasing student numbers may limit a student’s access to key elements of their expected higher education experience. This could disproportionately affect those without the financial resources or wider support to react appropriately.

For example, where appropriate student accommodation is limited, students with less money or who are accepted at a late stage in the application cycle, may not be able to secure suitable housing.

Experiencing this risk is likely to impact a student at the on-course and at the progression stages of their education.

  • An increase in capacity issues may lead to issues such as lower quality teaching, less academic and personal support and low availability and/or quality of accommodation for students.
  • These in turn may lead to poorer mental health for students, worse on-course degree attainment and lower continuation rates.
  • Concerns over accommodation issues may also lead to changing application patterns for some students (i.e. increasing propensity to apply to home/close providers).
  • It may also lead to worse labour market outcomes for students, if there are reductions in relevant services.

Students who are:

  • from a low household income
  • disabled
  • mature
  • care experienced
  • estranged.

Note that the ordering does not denote a scale or ranking system.


It is important to consider how different student characteristics might interact with each other, and with school and areas-based characteristics. Providers may also wish to consider whether the mode of study heightens a risk. It is therefore recommended that providers consider intersectionality closely when looking at their own data.

For different groups of students, the impact of these risks that are visible in data might be:

  • low scores for NSS questions relating to academic support, overall satisfaction, teaching, learning resources, mental health and wellbeing 
  • oversubscription of wellbeing, counselling and academic support services
  • oversubscription to hardship funds
  • increasing proportions of students reporting accommodation issues
  • low on-course attainment rates
  • low continuation rates
  • low completion rates
  • employment outcomes
  • low progression rates to further study.

Although this is a national risk, the extent to which it is seen at each provider may depend on factors such as size:

  • location
  • whether the provider recruits locally or nationally
  • the extent of on-course academic and personal support.

We therefore encourage providers to examine their own data to establish if this risk to equality of opportunity affects their current or potential student population.

Bland, B. & Shaw, J. (2015) ‘New Starts: The challenges of Higher Education without the support of a family network’. Unite Foundation & Standalone

Department for Education and Department of Health (2015), ‘Promoting the health and well-being of looked-after children – Statutory guidance for Local Authorities, clinical commissioning groups and NHS England’, 2015                       

Department for Education (2023) ‘HE providers’ policies and practices to support student mental health’. (Accessed 12/12/2023)        

Department for Education and IFF Research (2019). ‘Evaluation of disabled students’ allowances’. January 2019. (Accessed on 15/12/203)         

Hauari, H. Hollingworth, K., Cameron, C (2019) ‘Getting it right for care experienced students in higher education’. UCL.       

HEPI & Unipol (2023) ‘Student accommodation costs across 10 cities in the UK. Cost pressures and their consequences in Purpose-Built Student Accommodation’. (Accessed 11/01/2024)        

Office for Students (2023) ‘Insight brief 19. Protecting students as consumers’.                

Policy Connect (2020) ‘Arriving At Thriving: Learning from disabled students to ensure access for all’. (Accessed 12/12/23)        

Russell Group Students Union (2023) ‘Cost of living report’. (Accessed 11/01/2024)          

UCAS ‘Next Steps: What is the experience of students from a care background in education?’ (Accessed 05/12/2023)

Published 29 March 2023
Last updated 18 January 2024
18 January 2024
We have published a list of references that informed this risk.

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