The threat that coronavirus would (then did) make campus teaching impossible, the flight of lucrative international students (paying fees of £7 billion), fears that they would not return and that finances would be so severely squeezed that at least a dozen universities might have to close, left the post-COVID higher education world gasping for breath.
The implications for education-related property looked dire. Given the enormous range of university and campus buildings, the many spin-off developments at science parks, and the hefty investment in purpose-built student accommodation, any slow-down in the university world meant headaches for developers, contractors and fit-out businesses.
A relief, then, to find the new academic year beginning amidst optimism for a sector that generates £18 billion a year for the UK economy. Even so, gently rising confidence comes with the heavily-underlined reservation that the next four months will be make or break.
The purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) world is still new, and had a terrible spring 2020. Private operators forgave or forgot more than £500 million worth of rent as universities closed and students went back to live with their parents.
Yet, long-term, the rising university-age population means demand for PBSA has to grow, despite the pain of the 2019/20, and probably 2020/21, academic years.