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Double the number of university students: Universities Accord

  • February 28, 2024
  • by Property Australia
Education Minister Jason Clare and Professor Mary O’Kane

The Australian Universities Accord, unveiled on Sunday, hopes to increase the number of Australians obtaining tertiary education, suggesting a doubling of commonwealth-supported students at universities to reach 1.8 million by 2050. 

The Report recommends that at least 80 per cent of the workforce will need a VET or university qualification by 2050. Currently, it sits at 60 per cent. 

“The Accord will help to drive this change. It will help us build a better and fairer education system where no one is held back, and no one is left behind,” Minister for Education Jason Clare said. 

The Student Accommodation Council welcomed the release of the final report, which highlights the importance of purpose-built student accommodation in housing students Australia wide. 

The final report recommends that universities should have strategies in place for housing international students to alleviate pressure on the private rental market. 

Student Accommodation Council Executive Director Torie Brown said purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) provides vital housing specifically for students and is a growth asset in the Australian property sector. 

“The fastest way to add much-needed student housing to the market is for universities to partner directly with the purpose-built student accommodation sector,” Ms Brown said. 

“PBSA has a crucial role to play in providing safe, high amenity housing for students who are a vital source of life for our CBDs. The sector takes nearly 80,000 students out of the general rental market each year. 

“We were pleased to see the Accord mention the important role PBSA plays in the market, and we would like to work with the Government to grow the pipeline of supply going forwards,” she said. 

In December 2023, Savills highlighted an easing pipeline of PBSA developments over the next three years, with the total number of new student beds dropping by more than 50 per cent compared to the last three years. 

Savills forecasts that just 7,770 new PBSA beds will become operational in Australia’s capital cities by 2027 – a 52 per cent decline compared with the 2020-2023 period, and a 64 per cent fall from 2018-2020 levels.  

A report from the Student Accommodation Council in 2022 also revealed that domestic students make up almost a quarter of all PBSA residents (26 per cent), almost the same number as international students from China (27 per cent). 

The University Accord report recommended the creation of a Higher Education Future Fund (HEFF) which would be funded by co-contributions form Universities and the Australian Government, with the aim of reaching $10 billion in assets.  

The fund would involve universities contributing from their own untied revenue, such as international student revenue fees.  

The Student Accommodation Council cautioned Universities from passing the proposed tax on fully to international students. 

“Any tax on university revenue is also a tax on international students – who are one of the biggest revenue sources for the higher education sector,” Ms Brown said. 

“International students are already spending upwards of $30,000 per year to study at a top Australian university. We urge universities not to pass this tax on to international students, which may cause them to consider more affordable countries to study in. 

“We produced a report in 2022 which showed students living in PBSA spend on average $4,800 in Melbourne and $4,680 in Sydney per month on eating out, recreation and retail. The economic impact of having these students in our CBDs is huge – we cannot afford to lose them to competitor jurisdictions like Canada and the US. 

“Australia is already a high-cost jurisdiction for international students – if these taxes get passed on through university fees, we will begin to degrade our competitive edge in the global marketplace,” she said. 

The Universities Accord is the product of 12-months’ work by a review panel chaired by Professor Mary O’Kane AC and informed by 820 public submissions and 180 meetings with stakeholders. The government is now considering the report’s recommendations.