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Buoyant student numbers underpin development

Whitley student accommodation, Melbourne. Photo: Nick Lenaghan Renders of the new Scape student accommodation on the CUB site on Swanston Street in Melbourne Photo: Nick Lenaghan

Booming numbers of international students coming to to study are underpinning developer enthusiasm for the accommodation projects needed to house them.

While prospective “bedspace” numbers are ramping up fast in the next couple of years, local players reckon there still won’t be enough to meet student needs.

The 7625 bedspaces delivered to the n market this year is a 65 per cent increase on last year’s total, according to research by Knight Frank.

While another 9102 bedspaces are promised in 2018 and a further 11,422 in 2019, numbers trail off after that.

But the election of Donald Trump in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK are combining to create even greater demand for ‘s university places, according to players in the space.

Scape Student Living executive director Craig Carracher has just returned from China where he found great enthusiasm for in the face of the Brexit and Trump votes in the UK and US.

“Whether it’s uncertainty in Europe, whether it’s Trump, whether it’s Brexit, is seen as a safe haven,” Mr Carracher said. “In the next year or two, we will start to see it flow through.”

The current ratio of international students to bedspaces is running at nine-to-eleven students per bed, he said.

“In the UK, it is three-to-four to one which creates some competition on prices. But if all the beds are delivered that are planned in we still wouldn’t satisfy demand.”

Recently released figures from the Department of Education and Training show the number of international students in grew by 11 per cent last year as 554,179 full-fee paying students took up places in local educational institutions.

New enrolments were up 10 percent on 2015 figures, outpacing the 10 year average of 7.1 per cent.

Chinese students made up 27.5 per cent international students, an increase of 15.7 per cent since 2015. But the fastest growing source of new international students is South America: the number of Colombian students increased 22.4 per cent to 17,190 and Brazilian student numbers grew by 19.6 per cent to 29,440.

More than half (57 per cent) of student accommodation projects have opened in Melbourne, where Knight Frank director Paul Savitz said it is easier to find the sites.

“I’m fielding a lot of queries from overseas groups looking to come into the market. A big European group was in town last week and another group is coming next week,” Mr Savitz said.

“A lot of groups are looking in Sydney but it’s very, very difficult to get sites. The residential and office markets are so hot especially in areas where student accommodation providers want to be – railway stations especially,” he said.

“That’s why they’re focusing on Melbourne.”

Mr Carracher said Scape, which has $1 billion of projects in the pipeline for Melbourne alone, said overseas players would need to partner with locals to understand the domestic market.

“They’re coming to look at the market but they’re not executing deals,” he said.

His group is backed by European and Asian investors and has $1 billion worth of projects underway. Brisbane-based Blue Sky has a pipeline of 3000 beds in a joint venture with Goldman Sachs.

“There’s a whole range of considerations that apply to students and this market has different states, different insurance, different universities and different rules in every city.”

As the new academic year gets underway, industry focus is on acquiring new sites and getting up new projects but the outcome of the Campus Living Village’s 40,000 bed portfolio sale remains a hot topic.

The portfolio, expected to fetch around $2 billion, includes 70 properties in the UK, USA and and is regarded as a very complex acquisition.

And even CLV is looking at the future. A spokesperson said, “At the moment we are not building in but we are looking closely with our university partners. It’s a very buoyant and exciting market.”

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