A petition calling for an end to accommodation uncertainty has gathered more than 3,000 signatures. (ABC News)
The University of Tasmania has begun offering foreign students the chance to “jump to the head of the accommodation queue” if they pay upfront, while existing students are being told to look on Gumtree as the university cannot guarantee them a place to live.
- Existing students have been told they are not guaranteed a place in campus accommodation, as preference would be given to first-year enrolments
- Foreign students will be “allocated a single room in Hobart accommodation without putting you in a queue”, if they enrol and pay, UTAS said in an emailed offer
- The university suggests existing students investigate the “diverse and vibrant private student accommodation market”
“Avoid the usual accommodation waiting lists. Accept your offer immediately and we will allocate you a single room in Hobart accommodation without putting you in a queue behind others,” the UTAS emailed offer states, with links off to webpages for fee payment.
“Be quick, first come first served! Places in uni accommodation are limited so act now to avoid disappointment. This offer closes 14 December 2018.”
The UTAS email offer to foreign students to “jump to the head of the accommodation queue”. (Supplied)
The offer to foreign students, which was sent out on Monday, follows earlier correspondence to existing UTAS students advising that demand for accommodation has far outstripped the supply of 1,110 rooms in Hobart and new students would be preferenced.
UTAS suggested those affected search Gumtree, Facebook and commercial real estate websites to find new lodgings.
Hobart’s rental market leads the country as the most unaffordable, ahead of Sydney and Melbourne.
The university previously told students they were welcome to “leave your belongings in your current apartment for the summer” and that they would be notified in November about ongoing accommodation arrangements.
Now, with many of the student body interstate and on holidays, news of the accommodation squeeze has caused chaos, with 3,000 signatures on a petition calling to end the uncertainty for students.
“I believe [the university] not contacting students earlier and making it more explicitly clear that this policy was on the cards is very poor,” Tasmania University Union state president Sharifah Syed Rohan said.
“It’s now two months out from the commencement of semester one and students have been left in a state of limbo.”
Ms Syed Rohan noted Hobart’s poor affordability ranking and a chronic shortage of long-term rental accommodation, saying news of the university policy would have “real consequences” in a “very tough market”.
“We are very aware of the tightening housing market in Hobart,” vice-chancellor Rufus Black said in May. (TripAdvisor Australia)
Finding new digs ‘extremely hard’
In May, the ABC reported international students enrolled at UTAS were sharing rooms at backpacker hostels after being told university accommodation was full and the local rental market impossible to break in to, with the throngs of prospective tenants turning up to view Hobart rental properties described as “bedlam” by an experienced real estate agent.
On Tuesday, Real Estate Institute of Tasmania president Tony Collidge told ABC Hobart it would be “extremely hard the way the market is at the moment” for students to find a new place to live, with “vacancy rates at around or just below 1 per cent, which is very very low”.
He questioned the wisdom of the university’s recent sales of property assets.
“Going back about three years ago, they sold all their community homes to build the new building in town. When that was built, my understanding is that it was let out in about 18 minutes,” he said.
“That goes to show the level of demand.”
The recent sales follow a reported 2006 sell-off of more than 40 houses near the Sandy Bay campus to an American property giant.
Despite the university stating they were preferencing the needs of regional students and first years, Nicole Bryan, a student from Burnie in the state’s north, said her Hobart lodgings were yet to be confirmed and that out of her 20 fellow residents, only four had received confirmation.
“I have no friends or family in Hobart. I don’t know what I’d do,” she said.
“It’s really stressful and it makes me quite upset, I’ve made this apartment my home and the friends I’ve made are my family and it’s all been taken away from me.”
‘A really unfortunate piece of text’
University of Tasmania’s Jason Purdie said the email was “a really unfortunate piece of text” that had since been retracted.
“It’s not the position of the university … the language was wrong and in fact it was recalled when we became aware that that was sent out,” he said.
However, despite the recall claim, all links included in the email are still live.
Mr Purdie said accommodation priority had been given to students who were living regionally, recipients of a scholarship and new to the university.
“They’re part of a pool and first-year commencing international students are afforded a priority,” he said.
He said the issue was exacerbated by the tightness of the rental market and the fact more students were opting to stay in university accommodation.
“We’re planning a range of initiatives to meet future supply … we’re really at a pinch point at the moment where we’re bringing on new solutions but we’ve got more demand,” he said.
He said the university was working “vigorously” to provide more accommodation options to students in the new year.