Where do students live (Census 2021 edition)

We now know where students live thanks to Census 2021, and we can use this data to understand other things about student areas.

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

From providers to me at Wonkhe, and even as far as the Office for National Statistics, the nation continues to struggle to define where students live.

Our latest attempt comes courtesy of the 2021 Census – which shows us down to LSOA resolution where people who ticked the NS-SEC box marked “L15: Full-time students” were living in March 2021. Here you can use the local authority and local area (corresponding to the human-readable MSOA names developed by the House of Commons Library) filters to look at places of interest, with the colouring showing the percentage of the observed population that ticked the box in question. I’ve also included the location of every provider of higher education in the UK.

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The more observant of you are probably noting that quite a lot of students were not living at their term time address at the time the census was taken. Students were asked at the time to respond as if they were living at their intended term time address – and providers and SUs were involved in promoting both the census as a whole and this advice to students during the early 2021 lockdown.

In the main, this looks to have been successful. We obviously can’t make any judgement about precise accuracy (the census is pretty much the gold standard when it comes to that) but what is there is good enough for planning and interpretative uses at providers, local authorities, and by the clearly obsessed such as myself.

Do students tend to live in private sector rented accommodation?

As I had the data to hand, I plotted the proportion of households that where private sector rented in each LSOA against the proportion of the observed population that were students for each local authority area (use the filters). While there’s never going to be a clean correlation to this kind of thing it does feels like students tend to live in areas with lots of private sector rented accommodation (and thus in areas suffering from fuel poverty)

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Are students making your town gay?

No, that’s not a stray headline from the Mail – a surprising amount of interpretative commentary on today’s LGB+ census data release on twitter has focused on the preponderance of people identifying positively with a non-heterosexual sexuality (that would be “Gay or Lesbian”, “Bisexual”, or “All other sexual orientations” – but not “Straight or Heterosexual”, “Not answered”, or “Does not apply”) in loosely sketched “university towns”.

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If you look at MSOA level the answer to the headline question appears, at first glance, to be “yes” for a lot of locales. But there are likely to be confounding variables, as demonstrated by a national correlation that hovers on the boundaries of weak significance. Certainly the very “gayest” MSOAs are not big student areas (and they are mostly in Brighton)

MSOAs with a high proportion of students are likely to also have a large proportion of people identifying as LGB+ – but as we know younger people, and people in urban areas, are more likely to identify as LGB+ – and we know that undergraduate student life is unfortunately the first time that a lot of LGB+  people feel able to express their true selves. We should be grateful that universities and students are at the forefront of a more inclusive and more accepting community culture, but people identify as LGB+ in all walks of life.

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