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Unis build to solve student homes crisis

THE rental crisis is forcing universities to build more accommodation for students who have been squeezed out of nearby suburbs and into overcrowded apartments far away from their campuses reports Harriet Alexander Higher Education Reporter SMH of September 3, 2007.

The University of Technology, Sydney, the University of Western Sydney, Sydney University and UniLodge, a company that owns and manages student apartments, are all looking to expand the number of students that they can accommodate.

The University of Technology, Sydney, wants to more than triple the number of beds it offers by expanding one of its existing buildings and creating a village-style area that would house an extra 1100 students.

The university was aware that students were living in apartments filled with many times the amount of specified occupants. "If we feel that we can contribute to the reduction of that problem we will do so," said a deputy vice-chancellor, Patrick Woods.

The University of Western Sydney plans to build new accommodation at Penrith and Parramatta for international students. These students, who do not have the option of living at home, are increasingly living in cramped conditions as rents have risen over the past year, said Shehbaz Singh, the NSW convenor of the National Liaison Committee for International Students.

"I've seen 10 students living in a two-bedroom apartment. Some live in places like Penrith and Mount Druitt, travelling every day to the campus because they find it very hard to get accommodation close to the university in the city, either because they can't afford it or the real estate agent will not give it to them.

"A normal resident would not live in these places where I've seen some students living. It's dirty, it's infected with pests, cockroaches. I found it really hard to stay even a night where my cousin was living. They were sleeping on the carpet."

It was difficult to find real estate agents who would take them in the first place because most required references from previous landlords, Mr Singh said.

The proportion of international students in universities is growing. Margaret Edmond, director of student services at Sydney University, said this meant universities had to continually look for ways to accommodate them. Students liked to live next to their campus, but this was becoming less of an option at Sydney University as the surrounding suburbs gentrified, said Dr Edmond.

The university offers more than 2000 student beds through a mixture of residential colleges, apartment living and university-owned terraces. It also organises rental properties. "We're very concerned. I guess part of it is we want to provide quality accommodation for students rather than living on a train line, so a lot of it is wanting to create that student experience."

Claus Christiensen, the assistant general manager of UniLodge, said the buildings the company owned in Kensington and at Broadway were at capacity, students were being turned away and hits to the website had tripled over the past 12 months. "A lot of owners are saying, 'I would rather have a couple that has a full-time job than a student'."