A snap announcement by the Chinese Ministry of Education advising that it will no longer accredit foreign qualifications studied online is expected to result in more than 40,000 Chinese students returning to Australia for face-to-face study, putting further pressure on the student accommodation sector.
While student accommodation is at, or nearly at, capacity in major capital cities around Australia, Western Australia, in particular, is facing significant pressure with an estimated shortfall of 5,000 student beds as international student numbers look set to exceed pre-pandemic levels by as much as 33% at some institutions. WAtoday reported that Western Australian universities are currently “preparing to deal with homeless students unable to find accommodation in Perth’s historically tight rental market” as on-campus accommodation reaches capacity for 2023.
The student housing crisis has forced universities and others in the sector to try to find creative solutions. The presidents of several local university student guilds have written to Western Australia’s International Education Minister requesting that an unused quarantine facility, 50 kilometres away from Perth be made available for short-term accommodation for international students. However, Study Perth, the organisation responsible for developing the international student market said that this facility had already been considered and rejected given its isolated location and a design that is not fit for purpose. In addition, accommodating students in an area where they are unable to enjoy Perth’s lifestyle poses a reputational risk for the sector.
Curtin University has asked staff to consider providing short or long-term accommodation to international students, a move that has been criticised by the National Tertiary Education Union for the “ethical questions” the NTEU says such a request raises. In a similar move, UWA has asked alumni to consider hosting international students. These requests follow a campaign conducted by Study Perth and the Australian Homestay Network in late 2022, calling for the community to provide homestay accommodation for international students.
While international students are being urged to ensure they have confirmed accommodation before arriving in Australia, there are reports that some international students are being taken advantage of by scammers. An example is Nepalese student Prasidha Neupane told ABC News that he arrived in Perth in January to commence a Masters in Environmental Engineering, only to find that the accommodation did not exist, forcing him to fly to Melbourne to stay with a relative given the challenges in finding accommodation in Perth.
While Study Perth’s chief executive Derryn Belford has said that the state government was investigating the potential for other buildings to be converted into student accommodation and that it has also “reached out to hotel operators seeking preferential rates for international students”, the student accommodation shortage in Western Australia is expected to force some students to go elsewhere to study or defer.