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Our latest market insight report reveals that 95% of students in Australian purpose-built accommodation (PBSA) report that they are struggling at university to the point that it is having a “significant negative impact” on their personal wellbeing.

‘The impact of accommodation on student wellbeing’, available to download here, also found that 85% of students surveyed had found that their accommodation was impacting on their sense of wellbeing (either positively or negatively).

However, despite the challenge this presents for Australian accommodation providers, students in Australian PBSA are significantly more likely to report that their accommodation has had a positive impact on their wellbeing than students in the UK.

Sydney Harbour and Sydney Opera House

Background

The student population in Australia has exploded in recent years, on account of the proactive recruitment of international students. Over a quarter of students enrolled at Australian universities are from overseas, and in 2018, Australia leapfrogged the United Kingdom to become the world’s second largest destination for those studying abroad.

Australian students have traditionally been keen to live at home while they study, unlike their British counterparts, but the influx of foreign students has led to a growing PBSA market. The number of beds across Australia is projected to almost double from just below 60,000 in 2015 to around 115,000 in 2022.

GSA’s Student Wellbeing Matters report, released in 2018, found that while there was plenty of research into student wellbeing within Australia – with particular focus on international students’ wellbeing – there was insufficient material: “While there is a good understanding of issues around housing affordability and quality, there is less evidence around the role of living environment on wellbeing.”

Our market insight report aims to contribute to this nascent area of research, focusing particularly on students living in PBSA. We have used our UK data for comparison where relevant to provide international context for the findings, as well as highlight any stark differences between territories.

A young man with a suitcase looks at a vibrant sky

Some key findings

  • Students are struggling, but their accommodation is having a positive impact

In addition to the headline finding that 95% of students in Australian PBSA are experiencing struggles that have a “significant negative impact” on their personal wellbeing, 1 in 5 students have “seriously” considered dropping out of university, and 22% stated that they suffer from depression.

The most common struggle was ‘stress and anxiety’, cited by just over half of surveyed students, followed by ‘keeping up with the workload’.

It’s refreshing to see that students are aware of, and quite open about, admitting to the struggles they face – so this says to me that if you offer the right support, they will get involved.

Sarah Ead, Project Lead for the Global Student Living Study

When it comes to the effect of accommodation on students’ wellbeing, 85% of surveyed students stated that their accommodation had impacted on their wellbeing. However, despite the concerning proportion of students facing wellbeing struggles, 71% of students in Australian PBSA said that their accommodation had had a positive impact on their wellbeing – much higher than the 56% reported in the UK.

Students’ struggles therefore seem to be more linked to their academic experience than their accommodation, but accommodation providers both need to keep up the good work they are doing now, as well as seeing what more they can do to help and support students with their academic struggles.

A young man looks pleadingly at the camera

  • Students in Australian PBSA are more satisfied than those in the British equivalent

In addition to this, students in Australian PBSA also reported higher rates of satisfaction with their accommodation than their UK counterparts. Students across both territories reported similar criteria for what constitutes a good accommodation experience, but it would appear that Australian providers are doing a better job of fulfilling those criteria at present.

This could be due to a more social atmosphere in Australian PBSA: students in Australia report experiencing a far higher sense of community than those in the UK, and are less likely to experience conflict within their accommodation.

However, their accommodation staff may also be playing a part in this superior experience: 65% of students agreed that their accommodation team cares about their wellbeing, compared to 57% in the UK. Having a residence team that cares about wellbeing was found to positively impact on students’ wellbeing across all subgroups surveyed – a stark reminder of the importance of a strong, caring residence life team.

Three girls hug each other while laughing

  • International students are happier than their domestic peers

One key finding, given Australia’s huge international student population, is that wellbeing scores were found to be higher in international students – particularly those from China and India – than in domestic students. International students were also less likely to have considered dropping out.

This was reflected in how they felt about their accommodation, expressing higher rates of satisfaction with their accommodation than their domestic peers. This is despite almost a quarter of international students (23%) feeling ‘stressed’ or ‘unhappy’ about the process of finding their accommodation, compared to just 15% of domestic students.

A young Indian man holds a camera and smiles

Interestingly, accommodation is a more important factor in choosing where to study for international students than their Australian counterparts.

So why are international students more satisfied with their university and accommodation experience? The report suggests that international students “may have benefited from taking more time to explore the options and decide where they want to go.”

Sarah Ead, Project Lead for the Global Student Living Study, elaborated: “International students tend to be less influenced by price in the choices they make, so they are more likely to end up in higher-end private student accommodation. I also think that, in some cases, their quality of life, opportunities, prospects and living conditions are just better than in their home countries. International students cited safety and security as their number one priority in accommodation choice; when asked why they decided to study in Australia, it was deemed a safe and secure place to study. So, ultimately, I think Australia is delivering on that, and that’s arguably why they could be more content.”

A young Asian woman smiles, surrounded by giant sunflowers

What PBSA providers can learn from the report

With many more findings within the report, such as the significance of a positive moving-in experience, there are a number of takeaways for those working in PBSA – whether in Australia or the UK.

Sarah Ead said: “Any reader should be taken aback by the sheer scale of the wellbeing challenge – students are struggling on a large scale, and this is a problem that needs to be addressed across the whole sector. From an operator point of view, it’s about understanding that the living environment really does matter when it comes to student wellbeing, and that this also plays a role in student retention.

She added, “There is absolutely a role for PBSA operators to make a difference to students and to support them better – both universities and accommodation providers should be making student wellbeing a priority if it isn’t already.”

You can download the full Market Insight report here.

Interested in becoming a part of the Global Student Living Index and measuring your student accommodation against global benchmarks? Email index@gsl.news to learn more and get involved.