Currently universities provide accommodation for approximately 50,000 students, or 4 per cent of the nation’s domestic and international students. It is often difficult for students to find affordable housing within a reasonable distance of university campuses, in both inner cities and regional areas. Lack of affordable housing makes entering or remaining at university a financial challenge, and can also lead to academic problems by restricting the amount of time students have to study. Living a great distance away from university can also lead to social isolation.

One way the government could address the lack of affordable student housing is by encouraging the building of new stock. At present, the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) provides incentives — around $6,000 a year per dwelling for 10 years from the Commonwealth and $2,000 a year for 10 years from the states and territories — to the private and community sectors to build and rent affordable rental housing (20 per cent below market rates). 

The NRAS model could be adapted to build a stock of affordable student housing around Australia’s university campuses. The scheme is cost-effective, involving significantly smaller capital outlays than if government were to build and manage accommodation itself. The scheme could be designed to ensure ownership reverted to universities after a period of payments to developers, paving the way for an enduring stock of affordable student housing. A full NRAS round would make affordable student housing available to an additional 50,000 students.