UK - Student accommodation group Unite claims figures posted today justify its focus on high-end universities in major cities, despite a forecast fall next year in domestic undergraduate applications.

With year-on-year vacancies down 1-2%, and forecasts for stable rental growth next year, the firm said it was well positioned to outperform the sector as a result of its focus on high-quality assets mainly in the capital.

Chief executive Mark Allan said a continuing imbalance between supply and demand would offset a likely "small reduction" in applications of 5-10% next year.

"The group is also closely aligned with the UK's stronger universities, where demand is expected to remain high," he said.

The firm, which counts Dutch pension fund manager APG among its top five shareholders, acknowledged that a "cautious approach to investment and managing debt [would be] prudent in the near term".

A spokesperson for the firm did not respond to requests for comment before deadline today.

However, in a statement, Allan indicated that, faced with £200m (€233m) in imminently maturing debt and macroeconomic uncertainty, it would hold off on new developments.

Despite having arranged or extended £245m in debt facilities, £145m of it via its co-investment vehicles, the firm said it would not make new development commitments until it had addressed its on-balance sheet debt.

Gearing on its current development programme is expected to reach 80-85% by the end of the year.

"The group continues to see attractive development opportunities emerging, but is maintaining a cautious stance towards committing to further development activity at this time until the funding climate becomes clearer," said Allen.

However, he added that the 2012-14 development pipeline - comprising three assets in London and one in Glasgow - was "progressing in line with plan".

In the meantime, Allen said Unite was on target to dispose of assets worth £150m by the end of 2012 "at price levels supportive of current valuations". 

The firm announced in August that it would sell off older assets and those outside 'core' universities over the next 18 months.