THE leader of Swansea Council says he doubts “saturation point” has been reached with student numbers in the city.
Councillor Rob Stewart was asked about a press report which said Welsh university deficits were growing and the number of students applying had declined over the past four years to the lowest in a decade in 2019.
The picture varies among Wales’ eight universities with student numbers at Swansea University growing from 20,831 in 2016-17 to 23,684 two years later.
The student roll at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s Swansea campus is considerably smaller.
Cllr Stewart was asked at a scrutiny meeting by Cllr Mary Jones if it was time to stop encouraging more student developments, particularly as she said she had seen a growing number of “to let” signs on houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) in the city.
“Do you think we have reached saturation point?” she said.
The Labour leader replied: “I am not sure if we have reached saturation point.”
Referring to a reported glut of student developments in Cardiff, he added: “I don’t think we in a Cardiff position. They have a specific problem where there probably was an oversupply.
“Our universities are still growing – they are probably not growing at the rate they have grown over the last 10 years.”
Several large student blocks catering for more than 3,000 students are being built in and around Swansea city centre or have planning permission.
These include a 720-bed scheme on Mariner Street, opposite Swansea rail station, and a 706-bed development on Morfa Road at the former Unigate dairy site.
But no further applications have been submitted in recent months.
Cllr Stewart stressed that all the approved schemes were private sector investments. He said they would relieve the pressure on HMOs in Swansea, which some people claim have a negative impact on local communities.
Many UK universities have increased the use of unconditional offers and scaled up recruitment overseas in order to maintain a supply of fee-paying students.
Cllr Stewart said students were the doctors and engineers of tomorrow and he felt that some people in Swansea demonised them.
The Labour leader also said planning applications were still coming in to convert family homes into HMOs in Swansea, notwithstanding new planning guidance aimed at limiting their spread.
Cllr Wendy Fitzgerald said she didn’t think purpose-built student accommodation was “an attractive solution” for regenerating Swansea and reckoned such schemes didn’t replace HMOs like-for-like because they were more expensive to rent.
She added: “Is there an absolute confidence that they (purpose-built student accommodation schemes) will be filled to capacity and won’t be no longer financially viable?”
Cllr Stewart said: “I absolutely refute that city centre regeneration is based on student accommodation. It’s not.”