A combination of falling Australian dollar values, rising demand from China and growth in international education is expected to increase the need for student housing over the next three years, a housing expert suggests.
The higher education sector will enrol about 1 million effective full-time students by 2016-17, according to ARINA Hayball education specialist Geoff Hanmer. Of those students, about 350,000 will live away from home and need accommodation, generally in Sydney and Melbourne, Mr Hanmer said.
Australian government figures show the number of international students starting higher education courses were up 5.1 per cent over the year to March but vocational students were still falling, down 6.1 per cent.
Mr Hanmer said Melbourne's city-based universities were hampered by "inertia" in their efforts to cater for student housing demand.
Melbourne University caters for about 3 per cent of its student population despite having large developable land holdings, he said. "Most universities treat their campus like it's a national park. They are very reluctant to release any parts of the campus for other types of development," he said.
RMIT vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner said her university had an affiliation with housing provider RMIT Village but still had unfulfilled long-term student accommodation needs.
Mr Hanmer said the University of NSW was one of the few institutions building student beds despite having a smaller campus than Sydney or Melbourne University. It had just built 2000 student housing beds and was in the process of constructing another 450, he said. "There's a lot of scope but it's putting together the diverse elements that seems to be the problem," Mr Hanmer said.
Colliers International's Tim Storey said demand for rental accommodation, particularly close to the city campuses of larger universities, was still very strong despite a dip in student numbers over the past few years.
Australia's international enrolments comprise about 30 per cent of students and are worth nearly $15 billion a year.