The incidence of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) among UK university students and non-students of similar age was investigated. In addition, we sought to identify structural risk factors associated with high rates of IMD in individual universities. Cases were ascertained via Consultants in Communicable Disease Control (or equivalent officers) between September 1994 and March 1997. Data on individual universities were obtained from university accommodation officers. University students had an increased annual rate of invasive meningococcal disease (13.2/105, 95% CI 11.2-15.2) compared with non-students of similar age in the same health districts (5.5/105, CI 4.7-6.4) and in those health districts without universities (3.7/105, CI 2.9-4.4). This trend was highly significant. Regression analysis demonstrated catered hall accommodation to be the main structural risk factor. Higher rates of disease were observed at universities providing catered hall places for > 10% of their student population (15.3/105, CI 11.8-18.8) compared with those providing places for < 10% of students (5.9/105, CI 4.1-7.7). The majority of IMD amongst students was caused by serogroup B organisms. University students in the UK are at increased risk of IMD compared with non-students of a similar age. The incidence of IMD tends to be greatest at universities with a high provision of catered hall accommodation.