Australian university to ‘double’ on-campus housing

UQ flags new residential complex as accommodation council urges students to ‘pounce’ on mid-year vacancies

May 29, 2023
Artist's impression of UQ's proposed housing complex

In a sign of desperate demand for student accommodation in Australia, a university has announced plans to build three new residential towers on its main campus, barely a year after a similar complex opened with full occupancy.

The University of Queensland (UQ) has pledged to start constructing the new housing block next year on vacant land at its St Lucia campus, provided that the development wins final approval from the institution’s governing body.

The project would be fully financed through a state government loan. UQ said it expected the complex to open at the start of 2026 and be “financially sustainable” from the outset. A feasibility study had found that demand for dedicated student housing would continue growing for years.

“Vacancy rates for rental accommodation in Brisbane are at record low levels and the supply of purpose-built student accommodation has slowed in recent years,” said vice-chancellor Deborah Terry. “This project would complement existing UQ-owned accommodation and our residential colleges, while hopefully taking some pressure off the rental market in our surrounding area.”

Brisbane has one of the tightest accommodation markets in the country, with just 0.7 per cent of rental properties currently available, according to the latest monthly data. The situation is worse in some other cities, leading the Student Accommodation Council – an offshoot of the Property Council of Australia, set up a year ago – to highlight a looming vacancy bubble.

Student Accommodation Council executive director Torie Brown said the “biggest turnover” at purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) happened during the mid-year university break, as residents finished their courses or moved elsewhere. “Now is the time to try and secure a room for semester two,” she said. “Don’t leave it too late.”

A Sydney forum last December heard that universities across the country were struggling to tackle housing shortages, with landlords and private accommodation operators no longer able to meet students’ needs. European and North American institutions are experiencing similar problems

Dedicated student housing in Australia is under unprecedented pressure as locals abandon hopes of securing rental properties, while international students flock to the country following the removal of Covid border restrictions. Meanwhile, incumbent residents are reluctant to move on because of the scant alternatives.

Universities in some regional areas, where accommodation shortages are among the worst in the nation, are also planning new on-campus residential blocks. 

UQ’s proposed residence would neighbour the 610-bed Kev Carmody house, named after an indigenous musician and university alumnus, which opened last year. While the new facility’s design, cost and capacity are still being finalised, it will house at least 740 students.

The university said its accommodation was priced “below market levels” with rental increases kept below inflation “where possible” and some rooms reserved for regional and disadvantaged scholarship recipients.

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