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Australia ‘risks losing students’ amid rent crisis

The number of international students studying in Australia in 2023 is predicted to top the pre-Covid record set in 2019.

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A number of universities sold off a proportion of their student housing during the pandemic

In what appears to be a long-awaited recovery for the Australian education sector, local press has however been awash with commentary about how the increase in numbers of international students contributes to the deepening rental crisis in the nation’s major cities.

Some reports blatantly accuse international students of ‘fuelling Australia’s rental crisis’, while others attempt to debunk such rhetoric as dangerous myths.

Many international students already in Australia are struggling to meet the rising cost of living, while those looking for a place remotely – before traveling to commence their studies in Australia – feel discriminated against by landlords who consider them ‘high risk’ due to their lack of rental and financial history.

Australia’s purpose-built 120,000-bed student accommodation housing sector is at 100% capacity. With no new housing to be available for another 18 months or more, many students seeking accommodation will struggle to find a place.

A number of universities sold off a proportion of their student housing during the pandemic. In some cases, this made student accommodation more costly than the wider private rental market.

For example, some student listings for a large studio apartment in Melbourne were advertised for AUS$759 a week, which is 57% higher than the city’s median rent for a unit of comparable size.

The vast majority of international students have to rely on the private rental market, and many find themselves in precarious, insecure and inadequate accommodation.

Anika, a 22-year-old international student from India, arrived in Melbourne in 2020, just before Covid. She secured accommodation in one of Melbourne’s purpose-built student housing units relatively easily due to the significant drop in international arrivals.

“Most places attract large crowds of prospective renters”

Since the borders reopened, her rent has increased by 50%. She lives in a “shoe box” for AUS$270 a week. She has been trying to find another place since February this year, something more liveable but also affordable in one of Melbourne’s inner suburbs.

“Most places attract large crowds of prospective renters. I had to queue for an hour to inspect an apartment in Prahran,” she said. So far, Anika has failed to find new accommodation.

International student from China, Kiki Zhang, recently told ABC about the anxiety and worry she faced when searching for housing.

“It was incredibly difficult to find a place … The whole experience was very unexpected,” the 25-year-old in Melbourne said.

New arrivals in the middle of this year are expected to further inflame an already critical situation with demand far exceeding supply, stakeholders fear. Earlier this year, there were concerns that an influx of Chinese students after the country’s borders opened would exacerbate the housing shortage.

Australian researchers monitoring public sentiment around this issue via open online platforms point out that prospective international students are concerned with Australia’s housing crisis and might choose other destinations to study if unable to find affordable accommodation.

Staff at one of Melbourne’s universities are being asked to billet international students to ensure they do not turn their backs on Australia.


About the author: This article was written jointly by international project officer at LaTrobe University Jennet Ure, and manager, LaTrobe International at LaTrobe University William Peng. 

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