Affordable accommodation for disadvantaged university students?

There are many things I want to address about the Australia Governments 2016-2017 budget. Alongside only postponing fee deregulation for another year the government has released a paper entitled “Driving Innovation, Fairness and Excellence in Australian Higher Education” to inform stakeholders and hope to influence the terms of the changes to higher education in the future.

Although the paper addresses some of the major problems faced in terms of fairness in higher education, for example equity for students from lower socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds and regional and rural backgrounds, and Aboriginal and Torres-Straight Islanders, it doesn’t do much to suggest an actual plan to see more of these groups attending higher education, particularly universities.

The paper outlines briefly a plan to improve infrastructure at regional universities to boost the number of students at those universities, while it states that institutions in the city already have enough infrastructure. While it would be great to improve regional higher education providers facilities to support students, I would strongly argue that institutions in major cities have enough key infrastructure to support these students. For example, one of the most important aspects that prevents these students attending universities is affordable accommodation close to campus.  Affordable accommodation on campus or nearby affordable accommodation for students from SES, rural & regional and  Aboriginal and Torres-Straight Islander backgrounds is utterly key to ensuring that they can attend tertiary education institutions. There is an inadequate number of subsidised accommodation for students from these backgrounds at many universities in Australia.

While expensive student accommodation does continue to be built, for example UrbanNest, which offers share twin share rooms from $340/week or even the Sydney University Village, with the lowest available room rate of $294/week per person (for a single room in a 4-5 bedroom apartment).  These prices for accommodation are far outside the reach of students from disadvantaged backgrounds who receive approximately $433.20/fortnight or $216.60/week in living away from home Youth Allowance payments. Youth Allowance, which is meant to cover the cost of accommodation, food and bills for students living away from home, who are between the ages of 18 to 24 years old. If you live in a major city like Sydney, you would be very lucky indeed to find accommodation close to the University of New South Wales (UNSW) or University of Sydney (USYD) in the form of a room in a share house for less than $200/week, leaving you with $16.60 for food and bills. There is still also a small amount of rent assistance for people on low incomes, about $50 a fortnight. This still leaves little to live off, unless you can find a part-time job along side your already full time study load (and that’s not that easy in the current climate). Changes to Sunday penalty rates will also affect students on lower incomes who are working part time and casual jobs in hospitality. Many disadvantaged students cant even afford basics needed to their university studies, like broadband internet at home, expensive text books, up-to date laptops (most students will be able to find a way to purchase a secondhand computer or laptop to complete assignments on, within a price range of $200 – $300).

Full time students studying STEM courses, are usually on campus 4 full week days a week, which only leaves 3 days a week for them to earn enough money to cover the cost of living in the inner city, which realistically requires about $450/week minimum in a city like Sydney, more if you are living somewhere like UrbanNest. The breakdown would be something like $250 for rent, $100 for bills and public transport, and $100 for food and necessities. If a student finds cheaper accommodation, it is probably further away, which pushes up their public transport costs. If you don’t have access to cheaper supermarkets and food co-ops, the cost of food increases.

If the government and universities REALLY want to improve the percentage of students from SES, rural & regional and  Aboriginal and Torres-Straight Islander backgrounds at universities, real affordable accommodation needs to be offered, not “affordable” accommodation, which requires the student has parents wealthy enough, or a flexible well paid part-time job to support them, which often in the case of these students, just is not the case.


Seven things I hate about Sydney

Here are the seven things I hate about Sydney, Australia. I have lived in this city for 15 years and in many ways I love this city, but there are some things that make absolutely no sense in this city’s infrastructure and housing areas.

  1. The lack of effective public transport, there could be much better public transport routes built, if money was invested in light rail* as opposed to building more highways. We used to have light rail out to Parramatta, but what did we do? Rip it all out to make room for cars on the highway, the most stupid idea ever. I have been telling this to anyone would listen over the past decade.

*Recently in the past 2 years there have been positive moves in this area, with the building of new light rail in the Eastern Suburbs and Inner West, however in my opinion there hasn’t been enough emphasis on this kind of infrastructure and roads are still a major part of infrastructure policy.

  1. Linked to this is the amount of cars on our roads, seeing cars with one commuter within in the mornings in every single car clogging up the roads across Sydney is not uncommon. Yet people in this city need cars, because of the lack of public transport to many areas, the unwillingness by many to use public transport, and finally the sprawl of the suburbs being so large that it’s impractical to use bicycles.
  1. The lack of high density living, not only in areas within 8 km of the city, but the fact that the suburbs sprawl on forever due to land sizes being too large. Most of the time the land has been wasted and goes unused. The mistakes that were made with housing in this city are staggering and just drive me mad. There are too many parking spaces that waste perfectly good land that could be used for housing. There are far too many single story homes on large blocks even in the inner city (i.e. the Inner West, Lower North Shore), if homes are higher their footprint can be smaller and you can fit more people into the area (think of the Western European cities).
  1. The way speculation has driven up the housing market in the past ~15 years especially, at ridiculous amounts, if your house price is increasing by $100,000 a year [2-4], there is a serious problem with the market, only everyone was too blinded by greed to see it until it was too late. For example, in the year from January-December 2000, house prices in Sydney rose by 5.9 % [1], the next year in 2001, house prices skyrocketed 17.2 % [2]. In 2002, house prices in Sydney rose 22.2% [3]. There were a few years of weak growth and falls due to the financial crisis, however the market has picked up, going forward to 2013-15, house prices rose approximately  7 – 11 % each year [4]. Even now, many people refuse to admit or do not realize how inflated housing prices have become, and that this will cause massive social issues in the future if the demand is not met. There are fears of increasing supply (over 100,000 new homes are required in Sydney [5]), because a fast increase in supply could cause a market crash. Although a crash in prices might seem good for new home buyers, it would devastate current homeowners, especially those with large mortgages (and Australians currently have a staggeringly high level of person debt), and those who have invested in housing for their retirement plans. It’s difficult to see an easy way out of this conundrum, with out the implementation of very different social housing policies.
  1. The lack of affordable rentals especially for young people who don’t yet have the salary to buy their own place, such as university students. Rental accommodation around the major universities is ridiculously out of price range for the average student. Basically unless you have a full time job, a well-paid part time job, or wealthy parents your rental options are very limited.
  1. More and more people are becoming homeless in our city partially because of poor housing affordability.
  1. The lack of safe cycling routes, i.e. more widespread dedicated cycling lanes would make it safe for more people in the inner city to commute by bike. Increasing cycling over the use of automobiles would decrease traffic congestion, not to mention reduce carbon emissions.

[1] 6416.0 – House Price Indexes: Eight Capital Cities. Australian Bureau of Statistics. URL:

[2] 6416.0 – House Price Indexes: Eight Capital Cities. Australian Bureau of Statistics. URL:

[3] 6416.0 – House Price Indexes: Eight Capital Cities. Australian Bureau of Statistics. URL:

[4]  Australian Bureau of Statistics. URL: