Overseas students tell universities: ‘no housing, no enrolment’

As rentals become scarcer and dearer, international students are increasingly unwilling to travel without pre-arranged lodgings

May 4, 2023
Transparent entrance floor with a scale model of the Sydney CBD beneath
Source: Alamy

Uncertainty about accommodation is becoming a deal-breaker for international students, factoring into their decisions about where they study – and whether they head abroad in the first place.

An IDP survey has found that housing is now a prime consideration for prospective international students from East Asia. Almost two-thirds of Chinese respondents said they wanted to secure accommodation before leaving their country, and of these, almost three-quarters said they would not travel otherwise.

Many would-be students from Taiwan, Thailand and the Philippines also indicated that their study plans depended on housing being arranged in advance. Joanna Storti, IDP Connect’s Asia Pacific commercial director, said affordable accommodation had become wrapped up in broader cost-of-living concerns that were causing many students to reconsider their plans.

Angela Lehmann, head of research at Melbourne’s Lygon Group consultancy, said Chinese students’ desire for pre-arranged accommodation reflected the “vulnerable” feelings of a population emerging from years of lockdown.

“We have to bear in mind the context,” she added. “A lot of parents haven’t been abroad for a while. They want their [children to secure] accommodation before they leave home.”

Dr Lehmann said universities needed to consider accommodation and living costs for Chinese students, particularly those from “third tier” inland cities. “Traditionally, we haven’t considered these issues as being worth thinking about for that group of students. I think that’s a mistake. We have such a low percentage of rental availability.”

She said some universities had been urging foreign students to secure accommodation before their arrival. The Australian National University (ANU) has gone a step further, extending its “accommodation guarantee” – which assures first-year undergraduates of housing in the university’s 17 on-campus residences – to international students.

Sally Wheeler, the deputy vice-chancellor, said ANU had been able to broaden its guarantee after pandemic-related delays had prevented it from offering rooms in its new 700-bed residential block, Yukeembruk, until last December. She said the university had wanted to fill the facility quickly, to help build a sense of community, and overseas students had been a natural choice.

“We’re very keen to get a broad section of our student community living on campus,” she said. “If you are an international student from anywhere, and it’s your first time [here], living on campus is a great way of making friends and embracing life in Australia. You’re likely to be far less isolated.”

Accommodation is front of mind for universities elsewhere in the world. Indian national Merrin Kennedy said a room had been ready for her when she arrived in France for master’s studies at the Université Paris-Saclay. “They managed everything,” she added.

Guillaume Garreta, Paris-Saclay’s head of international and European relations, said more than 6,000 student rooms had been built locally over the past five years. “In France, housing is one of the major issues – perhaps the issue – for international students [and] all students,” he added.

Dr Lehmann said social media chatter indicated that housing availability influenced the timing of students’ arrivals, with some delaying courses until mid-year in the hope of lower rents, and scoffed at the “myth” of cashed-up Chinese students able to outbid Australian in rental auctions.


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