A landmark report has quashed persistent claims that international students are the cause of the nation’s housing shortage, finding they only make up four per cent of the nation’s rental market.

The Property Council report, which claims to bust myths in international students’ role in the rental crisis, asserts that international students contribute $25.5 billion to the Australian economy, and says they deserve quality housing when they land on our shores.

The report slams the nation’s current pipeline of purpose-built student accommodation developments, saying they won’t meet future needs, and that the projected 7,770 beds due to come online by 2026 is not enough to alleviate demand in the private rental market.

Executive director of the Student Accommodation Council Torie Brown says there are more domestic students in rental homes than international students.

She was quick to add that no one is suggesting a blanket ban share houses for local university students.

“International students have been unfairly blamed for the rental crisis, yet this report shows that long-term structural issues in Australia’s housing market are the real cause for rental pressures,” said Brown.

“If we continue to build new student accommodation assets at the current rate, we will see an extra one per cent of international students forced into the private rental market.”

The new report shows that international students make up just four per cent of the entire rental market, while domestic students make up just over six per cent.

Brown claims that a far biggest impact on rental housing availability has been due to the post-COVID trend to work from home.

Other elements impacting on the housing shortage include changing lifestyle preferences and family makeup, financial pressures in the construction sector and sluggish planning systems, and cities that have grown in popularity but not housing availability, Brown says.

Government data shows there are currently 662,895 international students studying in Australia, with 145,720 of those from China and 109,989 from India.

Veracity of claims questioned

The figures in the report have come under scrutiny by University of Sydney Associator Professor Salvatore Babones, who has publicly questioned the veracity of the research.

He points to a graph in the report that shows that 13 local government areas have international students numbers exceeding 10 per cent of the rental market.

In 73 per cent of Local Government Areas (LGAs), the concentration is under one per cent.

This means that in 27 per cent of LGAs, which are virtually all in capital cites, not rural areas, the concentration is over one per cent.

So, if there were no international students, in 27 per cent of LGAs, the rental availability, by a very rough cut, according to their analysis, would double.

Professor Babones, who is a quantitative comparative sociologist who commentates widely on higher education issues is the author of a book published in 2021 called Australia’s Universities: Can They Reform?

“Obviously, the admission of more than half a million students (the exact number depends on how you count), must put serious pressure on housing in a country with a population of just 26 million people.”

While he was quick to point out that he’s not a housing economist, he admitted the analysis of that impact is hard to quantify.

“That said, as someone who does teach demography, I can tell you that more than one-fifth of Australian residents aged 18 to 28 is a foreign student,” Prof Babones said.

“In the capital cities, the ratio is likely much higher.

“Thus, the pressure put on housing availability for this particular segment of the market – one- and two-bedroom inner city apartments – much be extremely severe.”

Professor Babones said Australia accepts up to 10 per cent of the world’s international students, which gives spouses an indirect work visa.

International students are allowed to work in Australia while studying, and have the same workplace rights and protections as other workers.