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Unis push for land to build student housing

FIVE public universities are negotiating with the Premier, Nathan Rees, to relax planning laws and free up Crown land to help build housing for an extra 15,000 students in Sydney reports Heath Gilmore in the Sydney Morning Herald of 19 Novemner 2009.


The universities - Western Sydney, Macquarie, Sydney, NSW and the University of Technology, Sydney - want to provide more affordable accommodation to attract domestic and international students.

UWS has put forward a proposal for a five-day boarding complex to assist students living in the city who have to struggle with crowded public transport and congested roads to get to the campus.

The NSW Vice-Chancellors Council, chaired by Professor Fred Hilmer, has started discussions with Mr Rees over planning approvals and how to make housing projects more attractive and less costly.

UTS and the University of Sydney also have raised the possibility of Crown land being made available for low-cost student housing.

Others universities are seeking financial assistance or incentives for smaller housing projects after at least three deals reliant on private equity collapsed this year.

The NSW chief scientist, Mary O'Kane, has been asked by the Government to act as a go-between with the universities. Her appointment comes after Mr Rees held his first annual meeting with NSW vice-chancellors earlier this year.

It is understood the main topic was student housing in Sydney's tough rental market.

Less than 10 per cent of students live in student accommodation provided by the universities in Sydney. In the United States and Canada, up to 50 per cent of students use student housing.

Up to 2000 rooms for students are being built at a number of the universities.

The University of NSW is set to open a $120 million complex in January. The 1021-bed site will be the largest student complex of its type in Australia.

At the same time UTS is awaiting development approval on a $100 million complex for 800 students.

No major projects, however, are due to start after next year, despite the universities developing plans for extra housing for at least 15,000 students.

The vice-chancellor of Sydney University, Michael Spence, wants to triple the number of beds available to on-campus students. The university is seeking proposals for short-term serviced accommodation within a kilometre of the campus.

''We are actively looking at potential sites on campus where we could possibly increase accommodation … both at existing colleges and other sites,'' a spokesman for Dr Spence said.

''We have said that if other sites do become available, for example, Harold Park or North Eveleigh, the university is interested in exploring these.''

The deputy vice-chancellor of UTS, Patrick Woods, said universities needed to integrate students' study with their living arrangements.

''If you can provide an environment which has the physical as well as the tutorial support for their studies [then] better educational as well as life experiences will result,'' Mr Woods said.

The state Science and Medical Research Minister, Jodi McKay, said the Government would address the student housing issue.

''We understand the importance for growth in this sector and the potential for attracting more international and interstate students to NSW,'' she said.