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Are landlords the biggest losers of the lack of international students?

By Juliet Helmke
05 October 2021 | 1 minute read
lack of international students

The lack of international students currently residing in Australia looks to have had a bigger impact on landlords than it has on universities’ bottom lines, according to a new analysis.

A report issued by real estate group Juwai IQI has taken a look at the Australian states with the largest decrease in international student numbers to examine how these missing students have impacted rental markets across the country.

According to the research, the loss of international student revenue has rippled into many other industries, particularly real estate. “Missing international students have a direct effect on landlords who specialise in leasing residences to these tenants,” the report noted. “Fewer students mean increased vacancies and lower rents.”


Victorian universities have lost the most revenue from international students, taking a dive of $343 million in 2020 over what they brought in from non-residents in 2019. The report noted, however, that “Victoria lost the most foreign student revenue because it had the most to lose, given that it accounts for 35 per cent of such revenue Australia-wide.” 

Ultimately, the state lost 10.7 per cent of its international student revenue, which is a large share, but comparatively not as bad as the 25.8 per cent decrease that ACT universities saw. Their shortfall of $82.1 million may have been less in dollar figures than Victoria’s or NSW’s $272.7 million, but it accounts for a far larger share of the revenue international students usually brought in.

The report estimated that landlords in some areas have taken an even bigger hit than universities due to the way educational institutions have been able to continue offering services to non-residents via digital means.

“Universities have lost hundreds of millions, but Australian landlords have lost an even larger share of foreign student rental income,” the report assessed. 

“That is because universities have managed to enrol more than 100,000 international students who are living overseas and studying remotely. These offshore students provide universities with desperately needed revenue, but they occupy no Australian apartments, sign no leases, and pay no rent.”

Juwai IQI co-founder and group executive chairman Georg Chmiel commented that landlords will not start to see a return to normalcy until international travel becomes more certain, and they were currently at the mercy of murky plans for the path forward.

“Three out of five international students hail from countries not considered safe for the early resumption of travel,” Mr Chmiel noted, with China, India, Nepal, Vietnam, and Malaysia making up the top countries from which Australia’s international cohort hails, and overseas travel expected to resume first with the UK, the US, Singapore, Japan, Canada, and Fiji.

“The borders likely won’t fully reopen for these students until the ‘post-vaccination’ phase, which at best is probably going to be sometime in Q1,” Mr Chmiel noted. 

“As travel reboots, airlines will need time to restart their services. All of this will likely push the large-scale return of foreign students to Q2 2022, just in time for the second academic term of the year.”

Mr Chmiel estimated that Australia will get back to 75 per cent of 2019’s resident international student population in 2022, but that getting back to 100 per cent will take us into 2024 or 2025.

By that time, the market for housing for international students will likely look very different. As much as landlords have been struggling with the loss of student renters, they’ve also been rapidly adapting to the shifting real estate landscape and the hot sales market that’s made it an appealing time to sell.

“The pandemic will both scatter and concentrate international students. You may see them leasing in a more diverse range of suburbs as they find that apartments in their traditional neighbourhoods aren’t just sitting empty waiting for them to return,” Mr Chmiel said.

Several suburbs that had large student populations before the pandemic have transitioned over the past 18 months. Other types of tenants and buyers have moved in. This may push student tenants into new suburbs and into purpose-built housing.”

Are landlords the biggest losers of the lack of international students?
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Juliet Helmke

Based in Sydney, Juliet Helmke has a broad range of reporting and editorial experience across the areas of business, technology, entertainment and the arts. She was formerly Senior Editor at The New York Observer.


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