17 Sep 2020

Universities are far from the only institutions feeling the pain of the pandemic’s hit to the international student market.

A recent analysis by education think tank the Mitchell Institute found international students were in more than 30 per cent of the accommodation in some inner-city and close-to-campus suburbs.

About a third of the students’ spending was in retail and hospitality, with another third spent in the property sector.

Some of that spend ends up in the purpose-built student accommodation sector, comprising specialty housing developments that have capitalised on the massive growth in international student numbers over recent years.

Empty seats are not an uncommon sight in student housing before lunchtime, but the halls of Iglu Student Accommodation in inner Sydney are unusually quiet this year.

“We’ve seen our occupancy, which would typically be around 95 per cent, it’s been halved by COVID, and it is directly related to COVID. It’s been very instant,” Jonathan Gliksten, director of Iglu, said.

According to data compiled by property consulting firm Urbis, there are nearly 113,000 purpose-built student accommodation beds in Australia, and a further 45,500 in the pipeline, either under construction, in development or planning.

There had been significant growth in the student accommodation sector over the past six years.

Clinton Ostwald View Profile

Clinton Ostwald, the group director at Urbis, said there had been significant growth in the student accommodation sector over the past six years.

“About half of that is actually owned by universities, either directly or through joint venture, and about 40 per cent is owned by private developers, with colleges making up the balance,” he said.

Iglu owns and runs accommodation in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Mr Gliksten said international students typically made up between 60 to 80 per cent of the occupants depending on the location.

While he is hopeful domestic university enrolments will increase and substitute some of the international students, as has been the case in previous downturns, he still expects to wait several years until occupancy levels return to their pre-coronavirus highs.

Mr Ostwald has the same prediction.

“It’ll take a few years to recover from this sort of crisis once we actually start getting students coming back in that first year, to then convert them to second and third-year students, and actually build that pipeline that helps fill the beds,” he said.

In the meantime, student accommodation providers hope to be part of the solution to bringing international students back onshore next year, as an alternative to existing quarantine hotels.

“We’re working really closely with the state governments and the universities to try and achieve that,” Mr Gliksten said.

“Without students coming through the border control, it’s a fairly depressing picture for both international education and student accommodation.”

Click here to watch the full segment from The Business on ABC. 

The above is a snippet from an article originally published by ABC News.