Rent crisis warning as students forced to return to campus


Brisbane has 16,000 beds in purpose built student accommodation such as the Unilodge building at 25 Archer Street, Toowong. Picture: News Corp/Attila Csaszar.

Thousands of students are set to flood the tightest rental market on record amid a forced return to campus, with purpose built accommodation ratios already stretched to 14 students per bed.

The Property Council’s Student Accommodation Council executive director, Torie Brown, warned a new edit from China is set to trigger thousands of students currently enrolled online in Australian universities to return to campus here – a situation Brisbane was not ready to cope with.

She said Brisbane currently had only 16,000 purpose built student accommodation (PBSA) rooms amounting to about 14 students for every bed – “well before the Chinese Government’s announcement”.

“That number will probably blow out because there are no new purpose built student accommodation projects that are due to come online in the next two years in Brisbane. We know by 2024 the only beds that are coming online are in Sydney and Melbourne.”

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Students at purpose built student accommodation at Unilodge Brisbane in South Bank.

Ms Brown said “with students scrambling to return earlier than expected, we will see student accommodation full in many markets – which will put pressure on already tight rental markets as students look elsewhere for places to live”.

International Education Association of Australia CEO Phil Honeywood said China’s Ministry of Education had mandated that “all Chinese students enrolled to study online with overseas providers must return to on campus study in those countries for start of Semester 1”.

“While welcome news, this will cause challenges for flights, accommodation and visa approvals,” he posted.

He told The Courier-Mail “Chinese students prefer to go into purpose built student accommodation rather than compete in the private rental market”, with international students generally taking up the most PBSA beds.

Student Housing Council

Student Accommodation Council president Anouk Darling with council executive director Torie Brown at Scape, a major student housing provider in Sydney. Picture: John Feder/The Australian.

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Brisbane’s tight general rental market had begun to change that situation last year, with a September 2022 survey finding domestic students taking up a big share of PBSA beds (26 per cent) – just one percentage point behind Chinese students (27 per cent).

“Student accommodation operators and owners in Brisbane were already expecting zero vacancy rates this year because of the return of international students, and because it’s a really tight rental market which has seen a lot more domestic students looking at living in student accommodation for the first time.”

“Brisbane is a particularly tight market for rentals, and particularly tight for student accommodation, so now that Chinese students have to return to study face-to-face en masse, we expect that student accommodation will be full in Brisbane.”

Phil Honeywood

Phil Honeywood is the CEO of the International Education Association of Australia. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian.

Mr Honeywood said Brisbane had gone from being a leader in the field of student accommodation to having a serious lag due to policy changes.

“The City of Brisbane used to lead Australia when it came to customised planning solutions for student accommodation under previous Mayor Graham Quirk. It’s unfortunate that the current City of Brisbane has really dropped the ball when it comes to international student support,” he said.

“The current Council abolished a number of the structures that were previously in place to encourage international students to live and study in Brisbane, and certainly there should be more effort done by both the state government – who’s also recently abolished the International Education Advisory Council – and the City of Brisbane to facilitate more roundtable discussions about a range of issues not just student accommodation.”

PBSA shared amenities at Unilodge Brisbane in South Bank.

Ms Brown said “data released by Savills showed the supply pipeline for purpose-built student accommodation beds is muted for the next two years – with 100 per cent of the new beds coming online in 2024 located in Sydney and Melbourne.”

She said all levels of government needed to prioritise development of new student accommodation to provide appropriate housing exclusively for students and stop them “competing with mums and dads in the rental market”.

“Expedited planning approvals, removing taxes like foreign investor fees and planning systems that prioritise student accommodation close to places of study should all be a top priority for policy makers,” she said.